My First Ironman: Coeur d'Alene 6/24/12

I honestly don't know where to begin. This has been more than just a race for me. In the process, I've been through more emotions than I knew I had and I've learned so much about myself and what I really want out of life. Way too much thinking and feeling for me! When I started in early 2011, my plan was to dedicate two years to becoming the absolute best triathlete I could be. I wanted to find my potential in the sport so I could look back and not have to wonder. Ironman was not necessarily a goal for me, but I came to the realization at the end of the 2011 season that, if I did want to do Ironman at some point, this was the time. I was well aware that the training would consume my life and I knew that the community I’ve surrounded myself with here in Chicago and at Vision Quest Coaching would play a vital role in my success. The support of my family, friends and loved ones absolutely made this experience possible. They wanted to be there at the race to support me, but I thought it was too much money and travel to put on others just to see me race. It wasn't until I actually arrived in Coeur d'Alene that I realized what a huge deal this experience was and that I needed emotional support. Each and every one of them immediately started doing research to try and swing a last minute trip across the country. It means more to me than they can imagine just that they WANTED to be there.

The Race Report

Swim It was a beach start. There were over 2,600 athletes piled on the shore. As directed by my coach, I lined up on the far left in the front. The plan was to swim on the inside of the buoy line. This being my first mass swim start I was expecting the worst. We were all just hanging out, watching, as the pros were coming around for their second loop. We got a one-minute warning announcement and then, all of a sudden...BOOM! I don't think I was the only one who was completely surprised by the sound of the cannon. I heard a couple of "oh s***s!" as we all ran and dove into the water. I started swimming hard and was totally shocked by the fact that I was not getting beat up. I was completely surrounded by green and pink caps and fast-moving arms, yet I felt like I had my own space. The water temperature was somewhere in the mid- to upper-50s and did not feel too bad. Sure, my feet were numb and the water felt cold, but I was comfortable. All I could think was, “this is not bad at all!” Before I knew it, I was rounding the first turn buoy, making the short 150-meter stretch to the next turn buoy and then starting back towards shore. On the return stretch, I swam wide...not on purpose, as I usually have a tendency to drift to the right in open water swimming. I could see everyone to my left on the buoy line and corrected a little that way. I found feet a few times, but for the most part, I was on my own. It was easy to sight back towards shore with the overcast sky and the large, red blow-up thing on shore (where the timing mat was). The swim seemed to be going by so fast. As I got closer to shore, I could hear the music, announcer and spectators. Very exciting! I exited the water and saw the clock reading 37 minutes for my first loop...not bad! This was about what I expected and as I ran around and jumped back in the water, I was thinking a 1:15 sounded respectable for me. I would be happy with that. And then the chaos started… Apparently the wind had picked up quite a bit. The current was moving toward the shore and the water was very choppy. I found myself in a terrible position: I got kicked in the gut, punched in the face and I was sucking in huge gulps of water with every breath. I started choking and couldn't breathe. I stopped to try and cough it out, but everyone was swimming over me. I tried crossing over to the far left, but that wasn’t any better. Then I tried swimming to the far right with no reprieve. These were seriously scary moments for me and I went into survival mode. I just started swimming again and told myself I just needed to keep going and get through it. I

I eventually made it to the turn buoys and once I started the stretch back toward shore, it was better. I could feel the current aiding me on the return. I felt I had lost a lot of time after what I had just gone through, but I still felt strong and was swimming hard. I exited the water with a swim split of 1:11:50!!! I was totally shocked and excited!

T1 Brrr! My hands and feet were numb. I pulled off my caps and goggles and started pulling off the top half of my wetsuit. As I ran by the wetsuit strippers, one of them called me over. Normally I just bypass and do it myself, but I knew with how cold I was that these guys would do a much better job. Sure enough, he pulled the wetsuit off in one quick swipe! I told him he rocked, grabbed my wetsuit, rolled it in a ball, grabbed my bike gear bag and ran into the changing tent. I sat down on the first chair available and a volunteer came over to help me. She dumped my bag and I asked her to help me put on my arm warmers as I tried to put on my socks and shoes. I was moving very slowly...numb and shaking. We eventually got it all done. I thanked her, ran out of the tent, grabbed my bike and was off. Time: 4:37.

Bike Again, brrr!!! The sky was still overcast with light drizzle, the wind was blowing, the air temperature was barely 60 degrees and I was soaking wet. The first 1.5 hours on the bike were miserable. I was shivering uncontrollably and my feet were numb. I wanted the sun to come out so badly. That's all I could think about. I pedaled, drank and stayed tucked. The first hour was relatively flat with a couple short climbs. I was looking forward to that first big two-mile climb to warm up a bit. As I started up, I recognized Katie (fellow Chicagoan and training buddy) up ahead. I rode alongside her for the majority of the climb and we talked about how cold it was and how brutal the swim was. She looked strong and steady and I knew she was going to have a great race. The sun started to come out shortly after that climb and I was starting to warm up. I regained feeling in my left foot about 2.5 hours in. I was drinking about one bottle of Ironman Perform per hour and supplementing with one sleeve of Shot Bloks spread out through the middle few hours on the bike. The amount of calories seemed right on (210 calories per hour for a 42% replacement...I averaged 141 watts), but because it was so much cooler than anticipated, I think I could have relied a little less on liquids and more on solids. Anywho...I was feeling good on the bike. I finally got feeling back in my right foot about four hours in and eventually threw out my arms warmers. Everything was feeling really good: the saddle was comfortable, aggressive aero position was comfortable, legs still felt strong, power numbers right where I anticipated. I stayed steady throughout and my mind was filled with positive thoughts. On the last out-and-back, I started to get curious of my position. As I was approaching the 90-mile mark before the final turn-around, I started counting the amateur women in front of me that were passing in the other direction. I counted 15 or so. They all looked powerful and strong. On the return stretch, heading back into town, I finally passed the 110-mile marker. What an amazing feeling that was! I couldn't believe I only had two miles left. I was surprised at the time. I felt like I was riding a solid race and anticipated 5:30-5:45 bike split, but I finished in 5:51:18. That didn't bother me though because my power and perceived exertion were most important. I felt completely happy with my performance and was ready to finish it off with my strongest discipline. I rolled into transition and Michael yelled my name and snapped a picture. I was so excited to see him! Side note: two days before the race, I was really emotional and wishing Michael was there. He barely hesitated, booked a flight and was at Dulles Airport the next day. I was SO excited that he was coming, but then his flight was cancelled, another one was delayed and he wasted the day at the airport and never even made it! Now, we're both sad. So, he bought another ticket for the next day, landing him in Spokane at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday and making it in time to catch the last half of the race!

T2 Volunteers were AMAZING! They grabbed my bike from me, handed me my run gear bag and I ran into the changing tent. Again, I sat down on the first available chair and a volunteer came over to help. She was awesome--totally on top of it! I changed my socks and shoes and she turned on my Garmin so that it could start finding satellites. I grabbed my gels and visor and was out of there! Time: 1:15.

Run As soon as I ran out, I saw Michael in his green shirt. I gave him a big kiss and said, “I love you so much!" He was totally shocked by this since that's not my usual M.O. while racing. But it was more of a celebration for me at that point. I was so happy with how my race was going and I felt so confident that I was just going to polish it off with the run. Once my Garmin found satellites, I saw I was doing a 7:45 pace...just as planned. It felt easy, as I knew it should. I had two gels tucked into my pockets and carried a third. The energy of the crowd through town was amazing! I may have gotten a bit sucked in as I had a few faster mile splits. The run course is two out and backs on the same portion as the beginning of the bike course. It's pretty flat through town and then a couple ups and downs. I was feeling good and took water and Perform at the aid stations. At a few miles in, a bicycle carrying the sign “First Female” was riding alongside me. In my happy, delusional state, I thought, “surely I'm not leading? I know I counted several women ahead of me.” Ha! The fact that I was delusional enough to even have that thought gives an idea of how cloudy my head was at that point! Because then Meredith Kessler pulled up alongside me--the ACTUAL first female. She looked strong and I said, "great job!" as she pulled away. At about the 8- or 9-mile mark, I just couldn't stand the thought of Perform any more, but I didn't want anything solid. So, I grabbed a Coke and decided to give that a try. This is when my day turned sour. Shortly after that, I started getting pretty severe GI issues. My stomach hurt and I felt nauseated. The pain permeated to my lower back--I've never experienced this pain before. My pace slowed. I knew GI issues would be a possible deal-breaker for me in the Ironman, but with how good everything was feeling to this point, I thought I was in the clear. I shuffled through town at about an 8:30-9:00 pace. I saw Michael and Dan and told them I was hurting. Dan said that I was doing good and just keep running: Never stop running! I really wanted to follow directions, but knew I probably wasn't going to. The pain was getting worse by the minute. I couldn't stand the thought of any nutrition besides water, taking that at the aid stations. My pace slowed even further to 10:00-10:30. My ego was crushed and I felt like my race was over. At about the 16-mile mark, I walked. After a couple miles of walking, I got passed by another guy walking. He was walking a lot faster than me and as we chatted a bit, he got me moving faster. He told me that he was a runner and this was super rough on his ego. I said, "me too!" After a couple more minutes, he said, "ready to start running again?" and I said, "I'll try." I ran very slowly for a couple minutes. I unzipped my race suit and lowered my race belt around my hips to take any pressure off my stomach. Once I reached the next aid station, I walked through it and just took a little bit of everything: pretzels, orange slices, grapes, Bonk Breakers, water. I was so hungry and just hoping something would make me feel better. Another mile or so down the road I decided to pop into the port-a-potty. I peed. A LOT! And then someone offered me warm chicken broth and that sounded good. Within a minute or so, I was magically better! I couldn't believe it...all the pain was gone! Now, at mile 20, I started running again. I felt good and started running faster: a 7:45 to 8:00 pace…going uphill. I felt amazing! My legs were strong and I was flying. I started doing math to see if I still had a chance at breaking 11 hours (or a 4-hour marathon), but realized it was not possible. So I decided to just have a fast final 10k, wanting to recover as much as I could. As I approached town, I picked it up even more. I looked down at my watch and I was running sub-7:00s. As good as it felt to be running this fast at the end of an Ironman, it crushed me at the same time as it just reaffirmed the fact that I did not race to my potential. I crossed the line with a run split of 4:09:06. I finished in 11:18:06…10th in my Age Group…25th Amateur…33rd Female.

Although the result was a disappointment, the experience as a whole was incredible. I'm glad I did the Ironman and I'm glad I did THIS Ironman. I've grown so much from this experience, both as an athlete and as a person. I feel like I have unfinished business in Ironman, but I am undecided as to whether I will actually DO another one. I'm looking forward to having fun with some shorter distances (Chicago Triathlon up next), supporting my fellow athletes and living the good life!

I am an Ironman!