Friday, July 11, 2014

IRONMAN Coeur d'Alene 2014 (Race Report)

In late June, Kristine and I tackled the second of my three planned IRONMAN races for 2014. I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite injury and extreme conditions. After spending a weekend in Coeur d'Alene, it's easy to see why it's quickly become a quintessential, must-do race for North American triathletes. And it's a great course for spectators, too. Read on for a race report, impressions and additional photos!

The lead-up

Our intrepid photographer!
Kristine and I flew to our favorite city (Seattle) on Thursday evening, stayed overnight near the airport and then drove a rental car across Washington state to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was one of the easiest five-hour drives I can remember.

We made the Ironman Village our first stop in town and were amazed at just how relaxed and quiet it felt. Registration was a breeze. After a quick little stroll through Coeur d’Alene’s quaint downtown, we hopped back into the car and checked into our hotel, just a few miles away.

The next day was filled with pre-race tasks: re-assembling and test-riding my bike, checking it and by gear bags into transition, previewing the course, and the like. Much to Kristine’s delight, we found a Jimmy John’s for lunch.

Mike Reilly and I

My final pre-race meal? A large, spinach salad with bacon and dried cranberries, and most of a rotisserie chicken from Albertson’s.

The swim

I woke the next morning to the sound of howling wind, which only seemed to grow in intensity as the sun rose. The flags were starched and whipping furiously. All eyes were on the lake’s rough chop; the athletes along the shore of the lake shifted nervously from foot to foot.

Calm before the storm?

Kristine helped me into my wetsuit and we kissed each other goodbye, and not a moment too soon. I had to dodge and weave through throngs of spectators and competitors, finally wriggling my way up to the starting line just as the gun fired. And with that, we were off.

Athletes in the water. Two laps, 2.4 miles.

I settled in behind a strong swimmer for the outbound/into-the-current portion of both laps, and overtook him to pull for the inbound/with-the-current return trips. We paced evenly, and navigated the rough waters well. He and I emerged from the water 5th and 6th, respectively, of more than 2,400 competitors. (Not too shabby!)

The ride

Blazing in the early goings.

As a stronger swimmer, a little wind and chop on the water is an inconvenience. But as a small cyclist, a massive headwind is a soul-sucking disruptive force.

I had about sixteen miles to get warmed up before the Coeur d’Alene bike course turned directly into the wind. It was blowing at a consistent 15-20 miles per hour as athletes churned over twenty miles of rolling asphalt with an uphill trend -- twice.

Staring to wear down...

Both times were excruciating. Slogging into that wind and up those slight inclines felt like suspended in a punishing no-man’s land with no end in sight. By the end of the second lap, my mental state was as negative as it’s ever been on the bike. I've been in my fair share of challenging race scenarios; this was the worst by far. I was miserable.

In most situations, the agony of a tough headwind is made worthwhile by the ecstasy of a swift tailwind, but not this time. Most athletes reached the turn around with shoulders slumped in defeat, resigned to limp back to the transition area with little energy remaining.

Almost done!

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it back into Coeur d’Alene itself. I forced myself to look respectable, dismounted, and set out on the third and final portion of triathlon: the marathon. Ouch.

The run

The painful and destabilizing knee (IT band) injury I sustained in Texas meant I hadn’t run more than a mile in several weeks, so I went into this marathon at peace with the thought of walking all twenty-six-point-two miles. If I feel okay to run a mile here or a mile there, I will, I thought to myself. 

I walked the first mile or so, thoroughly enjoying the fact that I wasn’t turning myself inside out or pushing myself to my limits. I enjoyed solid food at the first rest stop -- in the form of an ENORMOUS chocolate chip cookie. You can’t eat solid food like that when you’re running. Walking is so relaxing, I quickly decided, These races are way more enjoyable when I don’t run!

(Slight digression: You'll notice a lot of black tape around my knee during the race. That's RockTape, and I firmly believe it's the only thing that's held my knee in place these past few weeks. Kudos to the RockTape folks over there for getting me through this race!)

I kept a brisk (walking) pace for much of the marathon and even managed to eke out six to eight miles of “shuffling” throughout. Sometime toward the beginning of the second lap, I found myself walking with another triathlete -- a 51-year old badass named Clark who had qualified for Kona in the mid-90’s. 

We were both on the same page regarding the race; no rush, no need to come out of this event with a new injury. And so we walked and chatted. The miles slowly melted away and eventually, eventually, we rounded the final corner mustered up a stiff shamble across the finish line. The run/walk combo yielded a 5.5 hour marathon for a total time of 12 hours and 30 minutes. Epic!

The aftermath

The lake is now... calm?!

The finisher’s chute in Coeur d’Alene was electric, and the intensity only increased as the day went on. I reunited with Kristine shortly after crossing the line then spent a few minutes soaking my tired legs in the (now calm!) lake. After a quick trip back to the hotel for a shower, we returned to the finish-line to cheer on the competitors still on course.

High energy at the finish

If you’ve never been a part of the final hour of an Ironman race, you are missing out on one of the most exciting and inspirational scenes in all of sport. Kristine and I enthusiastically cheered athletes across the line: mothers and their sons, couples, elderly triathletes, the most determined athletes out there, all with a raucous crowd whipped into a frenzy by the “the voice of Ironman,” Mike Reilly.

Check out this old dude crossing the line!

Ironman Coeur d’Alene was everything I could’ve asked for in an Ironman race. It was challenging and beautiful, with great energy. The course, though punishing, was great for spectators (I saw Kristine a record number of times!) and the townsfolk were “all-in” in supporting the athletes on course.

I certainly didn’t have my best performance out there, given the winds and the injury, but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Coeur d’Alene and everything the race had to offer*. It’ll be a while before I make it back out that way for an Ironman race, but I look forward to taking another crack at this staple of the North American IM circuit.

And of course, I cannot end a race repot without giving credit where credit is due: to my wife, who's always there to support me, cheer for me and even carry me home when my legs stop working. I really couldn't do this without you, sweetheart!

Finisher's medal

* - Not entirely true. Ironman gives registrants some schwag at registration, and the schwag is total crap. I got a backpack, a finisher’s shirt and a finisher’s hat -- and all three are the worst. This is standard for any Ironman race, but heck, I gotta voice my opinion somewhere. Ironman, if you’re listening: entries into your races aren’t cheap! Please give us schwag that doesn’t fall to pieces after two uses!