This year was particularly special because my friend Deb and her partner Mike came all the way from Wellington, New Zealand for the event. Deb and I met back in our days at Otago University where we were both first dipping our toes in the world of bike racing and triathlon. A year later, in 2006, we found ourselves standing alongside 1200 other wetsuit-clad athletes in Taupo, New Zealand, just before being told that the winds were such that Ironman New Zealand would not include a swim that day. Later, we were informed that the bike and run portions of the event would be halved as well. So much for our first “Ironman.”
In a somewhat coincidental twist, the ½ iron duathlon that ensued was started in a time trial format and I remember being passed less than halfway through the bike portion by an American girl cycling at ungodly speeds. Her name was Tyler Stewart, and, as an age-grouper, she ended up placing 2nd overall in the event, just behind Jo Lawn.
Anyway, Deb and I both went on to separately complete numerous “real” Ironmans after the Taupo disaster, but we vowed to do one together someday. She made good on that promise by training through the Wellington winter and traveling across multiple time zones to come compete in IM Coeur d’Alene. It was awesome. My dad was generous enough to let my companions and me converge upon his vacation house on the lake, where all of the important race goings-on were a mere 10 minute boat ride away. The entourage at his house included Mike and Deb, Shelby and Phaedra, Aaron and Lily, my brother, sister, and sister in-law, and my dad and Susan. The night before the race was fantastic – great food, a spectacularly beautiful evening at the Gozzer Ranch golf course, and ideal company. Except for the fact that I was dressed in my Zoot CompressRx recovery tights, it was easy to forget that I had an Ironman to race the next day.
Lily helped me test my equipment.
Race morning in Coeur d’Alene dawned typically chaotic and semi-typically windy. And cold. I hurried through final T1 preparations, and lots of well-wishes to friends, before heading to the swim start in time for an ample warm up. With 20 minutes to the race start, I expected to be one of the last pros down to the water, but Bryan Rhodes was the only other person warming up. I swam out into the chop and after passing a couple of buoys, I had a moment of relaxation floating on my back and looking at the sky. It was so peaceful, barely hearing the music and murmer of thousands of people on the beach and staring as what was then an un-foreboding sky. We had been informed at the pro meeting that it would be a running start from about 10 meters up the beach, because the media wanted more exciting coverage of the race start. Having not done a dolphin dive all year, I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect, but I had no control over the matter, so I literally toed the line and waited for the cannon. The only nerves I felt all week were in those two minutes before the gun went off. I knew that the day would transpire as it would and there was no need to feel anxious about it, but everyone was lined up and ready to go when the 2 minute warning was given, so it just seemed silly to not just let us start right then!
Amazingly, I got off to a great start. I was in a giant pack (relatively speaking) for the first several hundred meters. I could see Kate and Heathers’ swim caps around me and I was astounded that I was actually sitting in the main pack in such crazy choppy water. Eventually, the pack strung out, and I ended up in a smaller group of swimmers more like myself ability-wise, but at least I wasn’t alone, and for the first time EVER, I found myself really enjoying the swim portion of an Ironman. I knew that I wasn’t going to be the fastest girl out of the water, but I really appreciated every stroke, especially after the turn when we got to body surf the waves back in. Unlike last year, I got a really good gap on the mass start and didn’t get completely clobbered after the first lap. A major bonus.
By the 2nd lap fo the swim the wind had shifted a bit and instead of heading directly into the waves, they came at us at an angle. It made the far turn buoys very difficult to navigate and didn’t allow for the same joyous body surfing on the final stretch back to shore. That was a bummer, but land was in sight, and I was keen to do what I (usually) do best – ride my bike.
T1 was a total breeze. My wetsuit strippers rocked, and I was out of there in 2 minutes. I know the Cd’A bike course very well, and I meant to approach the bike leg very tactically. My goal was to take it easy on the hills and to really attack the descents and the more technical sections. I usually over-bike in races, so I focused hard on getting my heart rate under control in the first 10 miles and taking it from there. Unfortunately I was a little too successful, and I spent the entire bike with an abnormally low heart rate, even on the hills. I imagine that the weather played a significant role in this phenomenon, but I have to admit that I was a little scared to see such low numbers. By mile 40 I was feeling strangely dizzy, so I eased off even more, decreasing the HR even further. I felt flat and lethargic and strangely unfocused on the leg that I really thought would be my forte. I seriously considered pulling out of the race at T2, because I couldn’t imagine running a marathon feeling that dizzy and flat, but I slipped on my Zoot shoes and decided to let the day play on.
I don't have any photos of the bike, but Shelby did send me this shot of what the rest of the gang was up to during the bike. I'm not quite sure what that was, but I can see it involved a lot of clothing.
Coming out of T2, I was in 6th place, about 15 seconds behind 5th. I really wanted to run into 5th place because I wanted a bicycle escort. It’s silly because for the 1st 4 miles of the marathon, I was only a few meters behind 5th and the cyclist was another 20 meters ahead of both of us, but until I passed her, he technically wasn’t my escort, and I wanted him. Around mile 5, we caught 4th place, and 7th place caught up to us. So there were four of us running within 10 seconds of each other and I knew it would be a tight race. Then it seemed like everyone else just slowed down. I felt great and was running a very conservative marathon. I don’t think I sped up at all, but suddenly I had the 4th place bike escort and everyone else seemed to drop off. That’s when I started to run a little scared. There was a huge gap to Tyler, Kate and Heather, and a very small gap between me and about 5 other girls. So I resolved to do what I had to do to hang onto 4th. It turns out that I didn’t have to do very much except maintain my pace, but I was uneasy about their proximity until the final mile. Overall, the run was very cold, but really fun.
I’m glad I didn’t pull out at T2 because my favorite section of any IM course is making the left-hand turn onto Sherman Ave for the last 200 meters of IM Coeur d’Alene. The street is super-wide, lined with fans who make you feel like the only athlete in the world, and it’s an easy downhill coast to the finish line. I got to slap lots of hands and wave to friends. I was truthfully hoping to place a little higher in this race, but overall, it was a 17 minute improvement over last year, and that included contending with some pretty brutal weather conditions. I doubted myself a lot on the bike but didn’t pull the plug and ended up feeling great on the run (albeit, very, very cold). Last year my final time of 9:51 would have put me very close to second, but there were a number of top-tier athletes here this year, and I was pleased to be in the mix. Tyler had an absolutely spectacular race, destroying the course record, and my hat goes off to her. Now, I just want this recovery business to go by quickly so I can get racing again. That’s what summer is for, after all!
I want to finish this race report with a HUGE thanks to my supportive family and my sponsors: Zoot, Lifesport (Coach Dan), Zipp, Orbea, Suunto, AlCis, Fuel Belt, Fitness Fanatics, the Spokane Athletic Club, and Runners Soul. To the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene triathlon community: you rock. Thanks so much for the cheers, the splits, and the friendship. To my friends going to Kona (Eve, Sam, and Jeff): many congratulations and I hope you’ll let me train with you this summer. To Adrienne, Deb, Robin, John, Morgan, Manny, Sarah, Laura, Corey, and Rick: I am so impressed with all of your Ironman finishes, and am glad to have shared parts of this journey with y’all. To Phaedra, Shelby, Andy, Cassy, Bri, Dad, and Susan, Lily, and especially Aaron: thanks for putting up with me during endless training days and race week. You’re my people and I love you.
Thanks also to Larry Rosa and Jessi Thompson for photos.