Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ironman Coeur d'Alene is so much fun.

Ironman Coeur d'Alene gets better every time I do it. 2006 was a complete disaster (albeit a fantastic learning experience), 2007 was physically painful but exceedingly fun, and 2008 will be hard to beat. I am certainly hopeful though! This was my first Ironman as a pro and perhaps the greatest of my many concerns was our 35 minute swim lead on the 2 lap swim course. I swam one lap of the course a couple of times before the event and it took me roughly 31 minutes each time, so I felt confident that a 4 minute lead on the mass start would be sufficient to avoid being swallowed up by the thousands of swimmers who are faster than I.

My confidence in this matter was buoyed by my great stroke of luck after the cannon sounded. About 200 m into the swim (well after getting dropped by the majority of the female field), I came across a male pro who was was treading water, presumably fixing his goggles. Just as I swam up to him, he began to swim again, and I jumped on his feet. Staying in his draft was a lot of work for me, so I assumed we were going to nail the first lap. I got dropped with about 300 m left in the 1st lap, but was still excited by my stroke of drafting luck. I was gutted to see 33:43 on my watch as I rounded the turn buoy on the beach and belly flopped back into the lake. WTF?!
I was a bit demoralized, but greeted by the most amazing site every time I breathed to my right side. Or every time I breathed, as the case would be. Carrying on. Thousands of athletes in brightly colored caps crammed onto the flood-shrunk beach. I imagined how much power could be generated if one could harness the collective electricity of their nerves. It was really exciting to watch the athletes in the mass start pile into the lake like an undulating superorganism. The excitement lasted about 1 minute until I got CREAMED by the fast swimmers. I mean it. Being just ahead of the mass start was my biggest fear, but it was actually way worse than I had imagined. I kept trying to slip behind the people squeezing around each side of me (or over the top), but the succession of swimmers never stopped. It was morally exhausting. The far turn buoys were as horrendously slow and crowed as I had experienced in '06 and '07, but I finally found some clean water once I was around them. I was too exhausted to even consider looking for a draft somewhere. The cold headache had set in, and I just wanted out of the water. Let the real race begin, I thought.
Awwww. Nuts!

I know that it doesn't serve me to discount the swim in this way, and I will only ever be genuinely competive once I can hang with the main pro gals, but at that point I knew my only way back into the race was on the bike. I stumbled in the deep sand a couple of times getting out of the water, but saved my real wipeout for the transition area proper. Running in bike shoes and making a hard left turn on a wet sports court = bloody knees. Just so you know. It wasn't like I was the only person in transition or anything. I had to laugh at myself but unfortunately, it made for a real let down of a post-race story. The dialogue was typically something like this: "Holy cow, did you fall off your bike or something?" "Nah, I just fell over in T1."

Have I mentioned that I love my bike? I LOVE my bike. My Scott Plasma fits me perfectly, is so smooth and light, handles well, and performs brilliantly. I really love it. I desperately hope that Scott sponsors the Zoot Ultra team again next year, because I really don't want to let go of this bike. Sometimes I have to rein in my bike. Like during the first 20 miles or so of IM Cd'A when it's easy for a slow swimmer like me to desperately chase down the rest of the field. I kept a pretty steady pace heading out to Higgins Point and figured out that I was about 10 minutes down on Heather Wurtele and 8 minutes back of the main field. I was in 9th place at that point.

Then it was time to time trial out to Hayden where I would have another chance to see my competition at Ohio Match. I passed a couple of girls on my way out there, and saw 2 more within reach at the turnaround. I made a point of not "chasing" anyone, but rather maintaining my effort and taking it as a bonus when I passed someone. It is a bit addictive though, passing one person makes me really want to find another. The bike felt really easy. Reflecting on my run split, I might have gone a little bit hard, but I felt comfortable, and had pretty even splits for both of the laps.

So green

It was gorgeous out there. Our long winter and cold spring didn't make for much decent training weather, but they kept the fields and forests of N. Idaho amazingly green. I was proud to be a local at such a beautiful race venue. In the end, I finished the bike in 3rd place, about 14 minutes behind eventual champion Heather Wurtele, and a couple of minutes behind 5x IM champ Heather Gollnick.

The best imaginable friends and race supporters. Shelby up from San Diego, Aaron and Kali (the dog), Laura D, and Roger and other Tri-fusioners yelling out splits over a megaphone. Phaedra was busy taking the bike pic above.

I ran my first few miles too quickly. I knew that I should start out at a slower pace, but it just felt WAAAY too slow. Familiar story. So naturally I convinced myself that I could hold that too-quick pace for the entire marathon and heck, why not just go ahead and win the dang thing. Obviously, I paid the price later. Again, familiar story. The majority of the run is a bit of a blur, with the majority of the memories being of running through so many familiar faces in town and then seeing my lovedest ones on the outskirts of town. I also remember Desiree Ficker motoring past me at a pace that seemed appropriate for a 5 km race. My lead bikers were rad (they changed frequently as I got passed by 3 successive women and then repassed one). There are some real perks to racing as a pro!

My original lead cyclist. He didn't last very long . . .

Unfocused eyes. Must have been a rough patch.

In the end I finished 5th. I was really happy. My final time, 10:08, was 34 minutes faster than last year and I secured my first ever pro paycheck. Best of all, it was a really fun day. It sounds corny, but I felt genuinely loved by my friends and family who came out to support me, and I was grateful to be able to smile back at them. Most of the time. Miles 4-8 of the marathon were really tough physically and mentally, but the finish line gave me shivers. I know I could do it more descriptive justice if I weren't writing about it 1.5 months after the fact, but the knowledge that I have a lot of races to catch up on is making me want to wrap this entry up. I do need to thank the special people who not only helped me get to the start line, but made my entire day epic. Aaron, Phaedra, Shelby, Laura, Andy & Bri, Dad, Roger & Jessi, and of course my friends who were out there on the course with me: Conrad, Katie, Troy, Aubre, Sam, Rick, Amanda & Michael, Robin & John, Kelli, Al, Keats, Tim, Vicky & Martin (haha) . . . congrats to all.

Post-race with my little Phaedra. Supporter and organizer extraordinaaire. I only hope that someday I'll begin to be able to repay her for everything. Notice the giant camera lens? She and Jessi Thompson are responsible for the majority of my photos of this event.

Kali was relatively new to our lives at this point, but she astounded everyone with her good behavior and downright awesome personality. Thanks for the support little doggy.