This is my race report, as a first-time Ironman. It might be helpful to you if you are also embarking on this journey for the first time. The report is long, and if you are simply seeking some inspiration, I encourage you to skip to the end to see what some of my awesome IronFANS wrote for me, and some of which I carried with me during the race.
Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2009
I'll start with some of the questions I got throughout the training process:
What are the sports you have to do in this thing?
What is this "He-man" thing you're doing? (thanks Dad)
Why are you doing it? (thanks again Dad)
How long is it?
How long is the marathon?
How many days do you get to finish?
It's in France, right?
Are you going to win?
So, will you be an IronWOMAN?
There were many more - some humorous, some ridiculous, but all well intended, I think. Here are the answers to the above:
Swim, bike, run (did I really have to tell you?)
Ironman Triathlon, Dad
If you have to ask
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
the same length as every marathon since the 1908 Olympics (it actually started as 24 miles in 490 BC when Pheidippides ran from a battlefield at the town of Marathon to Athens in ancient Greece, to deliver the message "Niki!" (Victory) after which he died. 2.2 additional miles were added at the 1908 Olympic Games when the race needed to finish in front of the royal family's viewing box.)
One day - actually 17 hours or you're not officially an "Ironman" - even if you cover the distance
Nope - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - just 30 minutes from Spokane, WA - the skinny part of the state, where the water can be really cold
No - finishing is a great goal for someone with a job that focuses on things other than swimming, cycling and running
No - it's IRONMAN, as I would not even consider a tattoo of anything other than the "M-dot"
I arrived in Coeur d'Alene on Wednesday, June 17. First I unpacked all my equipment, separating 'racing' from 'training' gear, moving everything out of the minibar so that I could fill it with my peanut butter, jelly, bread, oatmeal, granola, hard boiled eggs, mini food processor that served as a blender, whey powder, Accelerade powder, ... SO MUCH STUFF! Then I headed directly for the lake, dreading the icy water, and walked straight in, not quite up to my ankles. My biggest fear heading to Coeur d'Alene had been the water temperature. It was rumored to be "below normal" temperature, and last year it had been in the mid-50s. Oh no. It seemed frigid, and I watched some swimmers in full wetsuits and neoprene caps exiting the water looking very blue. In a slight state of panic I went to the grocery store for milk, yogurt and fruit to complete my food selection, then talked myself out of worrying that I hadn't worked out that day.
I suited up the next morning, ready to try to acclimatize, dreading the ice cream headache, the numb fingers and toes.... And it felt absolutely balmy! At 65 degrees it was warmer than the ocean where I'd been training, and the choppiness was nothing compared to waves. I think my feet had been psychosomatically cold, and the swimmers the day before from Hawaii or Florida. Time to think of a new "biggest fear." Which I did. The bike. The run. The 17-hour finish time. You name it, I came up with it as my biggest fear before the race. I was sure I'd be the first Ironman in history to get food poisoning from peanut butter and crackers that I'd brought from home. Or that I'd stub my toe so badly on race day that I'd have to drop out part way through the bike. I forgot the 20 hours of training per week for the 6 months prior to the race and decided I hadn't trained enough.....Enough! I tried to quiet my constant critic and worrier and focus on everything around me. Ironman Village was like Olympic Village to me - or at least what I pictured it could be: incredibly fit athletes, getting their "game faces" on more every day; vendors of the best equipment and clothing for the sport, Ironman paraphernalia for purchase, healthy food vendors and lots of energy. There were also legends of the sport walking around, looking very much like everyone else - Paula Newby-Fraser, the winningest (8) Ironman Championship athlete ever, among them.
The welcome banquet 2 nights before the race was inspirational and fun. Pasta, chicken, salad and Gatorade didn't seem to portend any gastro-intestinal trouble, so I dug in with everyone else. There was a 71-year old man doing his 28th Ironman in 22 years. There was a 20-year old girl doing her first and shooting for 15 hours (she finished in 14:45). There were 3 athletes who had each lost over 140 pounds training for the race. Inspiration everywhere, and shared anticipation and fear.
Race Eve: The only people I spoke to in person on this day were the bike technician who told me I had broken a critical part of my bike, and the other bike technician who replaced the $300 piece that I broke on the way to check in (in case you missed this part of my pre-race report). Ok, something had to test my will, and it was over. I tried to shake it off by reading and re-read the inspirational messages that my friends from home had sent. Here are some of them: "There are mental demons we fight and mental angels we all carry around; it is how we deal with them that will determine if we can finish this thing called the Ironman, this thing called life." "Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true (Leon J. Suenes)." "Good luck and enjoy this phenomenal moment in your life!!!" "Go Audra Go! You can do it!" "More than 30 years after its birth the Ironman is yet one of the greatest challenges and accomplishments of the human will...Enjoy the race. Finish strong. And don't forget to soak in the memory. Smile when you cross the tape." "YOU CAN AND WILL FINISH!!!" Ok, don't get too emotional. I watched a bit of the US Open golf tournament, and a repeat of 'Grease' with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. I ordered the special IM room service pasta with chicken, and felt obligated to eat as much of it as I could. I had not worked out that day, had continued my smoothie/peanut butter ritual, and had been hydrating with water and Gatorade. I was stuffed!
I set my alarm for 3:30am and went to sleep after looking out my window at the buoys for the swim course, which seemed longer each time I looked.
Race Morning: Here it is. I thought I might wish I wasn't going to do what I was about to do. I thought I might have incredible butterflies. But I felt calm, prepared, a little excited and still very full. I listened to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," The Gorillaz's "Dare," Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," (purely for the "...we're halfway there..." line) and a few other choice tunes that I carried with me for the whole day. (I could have used a bigger sound track.) I made my smoothie despite being SO FULL and contemplated having a peanut butter sandwich, but decided I just couldn't eat anything more. I stretched, put on my timing chip, and set out for the start. I checked my bike (still there and in one piece), inflated the tires (they didn't blow - phew), shuffled some things between my bike and run transition bags, and went to put on my wetsuit. Walking to the start, swim cap and goggles in hand, I looked at the choppy water and headed to the beach. Uh-oh, where'd the goggles go? Although I entered the transition area to begin the bike check, etc. at 5am, it was now 6:20 and the area would close in 5 minutes. I had to fight a HUGE crowd to get back to my "race day bag" in which I'd put an extra pair of goggles. Phew. Headed to the beach. Again. Heart beat just a little faster. "Never start a race dry." One of many pieces of advice for triathlon that I'd embraced. We were going to start in 10 minutes and I was dry, and standing about 10 deep on the beach. "Excuse me, excuse me (loud speaker blaring 'Get out of the water. All swimmers out of the water'), excuse me (thinking: will they disqualify me for being in the water after I should? What if the swim starts early and I get pummeled in 6 inches of water by these 2200 people)"stroke, stroke, stroke. On the beach, wet, ready.
The Swim: Bang! I started my watch and smiled. I was, as my friend Paul had suggested, part of a very elite group of people: those who start the Ironman. Now I just had to get to that more exclusive group...the finishers. But first, buoy #1. It was really choppy. People - red swim caps (men) and white swim cap (women), goggles, arms, legs, fingernails(ouch) EVERYWHERE. 2200 people, 8800 limbs all going for the first buoy. No need for sighting just yet - just follow the crowd. My heart rate didn't even rise too much - no hyperventilating like getting through the surf in the ocean. I did what my coach (Ian Murray) told me: reach wide, enter the water short, reach forward, roll with the stroke, breath every 3. I was passing people, and getting passed, didn't let myself worry - oof, where'd that big foot come from and why's that guy doing breast stroke? Red buoy - first turn - geez! So many people - keep stroking, keep breathing. Past the buoy, time to look for the next turn toward the beach (gulp, cough, ack!) breathe every 2 strokes in case that happens again. Ugh! HUGE waves on the far end of the course and then the second red buoy - the turn for home - phew, and the current moving me toward shore - yes! I will be one of the elite who has finished the FIRST HALF of the FIRST SPORT in the Ironman. YES! Hit the shore, run across timing mat, smile (knowing my friends tracking me online will get data and send me huge good thoughts remotely), get back in the water, reach wide, enter short, reach and roll, breathe - oof, that big foot doing breast stroke again - how the heck did he get ahead of me again? Ok, time to race, have to pull harder, only half of the swim left to go, and I won't need my arms any more. Go! Choppy, water, choppier water, a few breast stroke kicks in my face (though I grabbed his foot every time now), then the beach again. YES!
Transition 1: First the Strippers (officially "Peelers"), "over here! No waiting!" I hit the ground and let them "peel" my wetsuit off, then grab me back to upright, point me in the direction of my T1 bag, and a sprint to the changing tent. Wondering if we were supposed to go elsewhere for an actual changing of base layers, I looked around, saw a few naked parts, and just went for it. Ok, bike shorts on, ate some Clif Shot Blocks, socks, shoes, jersey, helmet, thanks to the volunteer who was shadowing me and would put my wetsuit, et. al. back into my T1 bag. Sprint to my bike!
The Bike: There were fans everywhere along the perimeter of the bike area and I pretended they were all there for me. There's my bike - grab, run to the mount line and hooray! Event #2 was underway. Thinking of my coach Bob (Forster) I thought push, pull, push, pull, try to stay in aero position. Lots of people lined the route through town, and the first leg out along the lake. There were some funny signs that I was seeing for the first of four passes that I would make on that stretch of the course. One that I particularly liked was "Don't get Pissy, Missy. Be positive!" I figured that might come in handy later. There was some guy named Len whose wife and baby loved him a lot. There were signs and pictures everywhere! There were cheerleading squads on both sides of the road at the top of the first hill, and a bagpipe band with all the guys wearing kilts. This can't be too bad, I thought. I've ridden for hours and hours with no cheering, no music, and no one to let me run the stop lights. Down the first hill - nice. First turn, just 7 miles into it. Wow - 105 miles to go. Well, I'm almost under 100 to go and I've ridden 100 several times (but not with a big swim before or a big run after - oops, negative thought - you are unwelcome! Back to riding!). Back to town and the cheering fans, then out the long street toward the big hills. I knew what I would see from my drive through the course a few days prior, thanks to my new friends Mike and Greg. It was windy, but I knew it would be beautiful. The signs and people thinned out through a less attractive part of town, but there was an old woman with a cow bell sitting under a canopy who I swear was wearing a nightgown. Her intentions were good - it was windy and not all that warm - but I found her annoying. I also knew I'd pass her four times on the 2-loop course. Back to positive thoughts - and there's a timing mat - good thoughts from LA, San Francisco, NYC - thanks guys! We entered the town of Hayden, and I was glad that name made me think friendly and fit thoughts, because my friend Hayden is just that. Then Hayden got a bit meaner. Big hills around Hayden Lake, and out toward the turn back toward Coeur d'Alene. Wind on the descents and sharp turns to start new climbs were not fun. Did I mention that cycling is not my strength? There were fewer signs along this part of the course, but they were pretty good. Each big hill had a simple sign with rough lettering saying, "LEGS OF ZEUS," always at just the right time. There was also a series of "bee signs." Each one had a bumble bee in the upper left corner and gave simple, helpful messages such as "Bee Positive," "Bee Determined," "Bee Strong," "Bee Happy." Len's wife and baby loved him on the bike course too. Coming back into town for the first time was pretty good. I knew I was half way done, I knew I was on the pace that I had thought I would have, but I knew I still had 56 miles to go. Back out toward the lake and "Don't be Pissy" was a little more relevant. I put my feet down for the first time in 4 hours at the "Special Needs" stop. We had all been given the opportunity to fill a bag with whatever we thought we might want mid-course. I had put a long sleeve jersey, a Powerbar, a towel and an extra water bottle. I didn't think I needed any of that, so I just deposited my arm warmers (only one of which I got back) and kept going. Back up hill, into town, into Hayden, (timing mat - cheers in my mind from LA, SF, NY, DC, Austin - keep them coming!), up and down, up and downup and down, up and down. My new motivation was to finish before the rain started. I had done a short practice ride in the rain 2 days earlier and descended hills at about 8 miles an hour. I realized that I would have to worry about making the bike cutoff time if I did that in the race but thought crashing would be a bad idea too. Thankfully I made it back to town - saw the cowbell lady for the last time - now wearing a jacket over her nightgown - and did all I could to stay in aero position. My back and neck were killing me, and and I wondered if I would look ridiculous running in aero position. Sitting up sounded like a terrific idea, stopping for a quick rest also sounded nice, and being done with the race sounded really terrific. I snapped back to the reality that "done" would require a little (!) run, so I'd better get on with it. Timing mat - hooray, there must be a big cheer for being done with 2 parts of the race!
Transision 2:Volunteers took my bike and put it back where I had gotten it and I ran to get my running stuff. No longer worrying about nakedness I let a volunteer dump my bag of things as I stripped off helmet, glasses, jersey, socks, shoes, shorts and I slumped in a chair (which felt terrific!) while I put on running shorts, socks (comfy, dry - mmmm), shoes, shirt, hat, remembered to grab a couple of Advil, then sprinted toward "Run Exit."
The Run: It didn't occur to me to be extremely happy at being done with 2 of the 3 Ironman events, because I had settled into "determined" mode to make it through this little run. I passed a sign for "Mile 14". Mile 14!? Holy Cow! I have to run this direction, turn somewhere, run back past here, back along the lake (the "Pissy Missy" sign would really fit now), then back here again to be at Mile 14!? 12.2 more from here - after I get back here - until I am an Ironman. Oh man. Time to recalibrate. If not positivity, then at least not negativity. I can do this. (One of the signs in my T2 bag said so.) I know how to run, and I even know how to run a marathon. No more equipment to worry about, no more rain to worry about (it was raining by this point but I figured I could run downhill without crashing) - oh! Aid station 1 - yes I'll have an orange slice thanks. Ok, not so bad, running through town for the first time, seeing some people just getting off their bikes (at least I'm ahead of them), realizing that the first male was probably finishing (he was), that the first female wouldn't finish for another hour (she didn't) and that all I had to do was run for a while to get this thing in the history books. I had had 3 chances to talk with Paula Newby-Fraser over the last few days and I asked her what she liked most on a course to keep her going. "Cola," she said. Many people had talked about cola on the run course - that it was a huge pick-me-up that was like a drug once you started taking it. I planned to wait as long as possible before taking the cola, so I decided on mile 18. Until then I took water, Gatorade, and 2 pretzels at one stop. There was a neighborhood to run through before heading back along the lake, and the crowds there were terrific! They were blasting music and one group was looking up race numbers so they could say, "#195, Audra, from Santa Monica, California." Hearing your name is like a push from behind that carries you a few steps. Oh geez, the cowbell lady moved. Now she annoyed me more than ever, and I didn't smile and wave as I had done with as many people as I could until now. Back out to the lake, Len still being loved, Missy still trying not to be pissy, and me wondering how cold I would get in the rain and wind if I walked for a bit. Oops, back to positive, to trying to "Enjoy this phenomenal time in your life," as another message from a friend said. I thought of finishing, I thought of finishing faster if I kept running, of finishing faster if I ran faster - ok, I was getting carried away and settled back to a good pace. All day I had thought of "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, "Half Way There," by Bon Jovi, and realized that I WAS half way - more than half way there! Hooray! (A few more steps covered while distracted.) Mile 11. Mile 11!? All this time, all this distraction and only Mile 11!?!? 15.2 to go. Well, that's not so bad, I thought. I've run plenty of 15-milers. Ok, keep going. Water. Gatorade. Len. Missy. The hill. I knew there was just one hill on the run course, that it wasn't supposed to be too bad, and that I had to do it twice. The turn toward town (and eventually the finish) was at the top of the hill, and I started feeling energized. Timing mat! Hooray! Good thoughts from afar! As I turned I wondered how many people coming toward me were behind me and how many were on their second loop. I assumed ALL were on their second loop and I envied every single one. I realized that by the next loop I would be seeing people who were just slightly behind me, or a whole loop behind me. I reminded myself that I was finishing the Ironman, and I actually decided to savor the next 2 hours as much as possible because they were all I had left of this incredible race. Swim - check. Bike - check. Run - getting there. Back to town, back to Mile 14 (for real this time), back through the neighborhood. The loudest, wildest music group played "Come on Eileen" as I passed and I ran in step with the music at the part where it goes from slow to fast. This was fun and soon I'd be at Mile 18 - cola! Ugh - cowbell again - almost done with her. Running away from town was very hard psychologically. I'm not sure why. I got a bit down and REALLY wanted to walk, maybe take a seat, maybe just turn where I was and head for my hotel. Ack! I caught myself and just kept going. It was really windy and really rainy and a lot of runners looked really miserable. I felt fine, all things considered, and just kept going. Still going. Geez this is a long marathon (reference the 26.2 mile explanation at the beginning of this report. I had to remind myself that the race organizers were professionals and most likely would not have measured the course wrong, though it certainly felt like I'd run 26 miles by now). Mile 18. I think I heard chimes. Cola! I smiled and took it, then stopped to drink it. Ahhhhhhh. I didn't realize or care that it was generic cola and not even Coke or Pepsi. It was the best thing I'd ever tasted! Oh, right - still have to run to get finished, or at least to the next cola fix. Yes! Next cola stop - yes, I'll have one. A cookie? That sounds great! The volunteer said, "I'll give you two!" It was cold, windy and rainy by now and the cola and chocolate chip cookies (generic version that had been sitting in the rain for a few hours and still they were amazing) felt like a cuddling in a big leather chair in front of a roaring fire. I caught myself savoring my treats - mmmm, so good, wow, Ironman, what a cool experience, yum, these are so - HELLOOOOOO! You're not done! No more cola or cookies for you! Clearly you can't handle them - get to the finish line!!! I had a constant internal dialogue, and this was my most "tough love" type speech of the entire day. I danced through the neighborhood with music, waved and smiled at a little girl who said "Go blue shirt!" and headed for Sherman Avenue. I turned the corner, saw the finish line, sprinted past about 10 people in the final few blocks and there was Mike Reilly with, "Audra Lalley. You. Are. An. IRONMAN!"
The next hour or so was a bit of a blur - stiff legs, body feeling bruised all over, some pizza, some chicken broth, some water, a Finisher's hat, shirt and medal. I felt very alone as the cold caught up with me and I had to limp back to the transition area to retrieve my bike and bags. Then I had to walk "all the way" across Ironman Village to deliver my bike to the people who would bring it back to LA for me. Then I had to walk "all the way" to my hotel. (Funny how walking a grand total of about a quarter mile after all that preceded felt harder than the race.) I took a long hot shower, donned my Finisher hat and warm clothes, and headed to the lobby to chat with other finishers. A few of us went back to the finish line just before midnight to cheer in the final finishers. The last official finisher was a woman named Lois. She crumbled to the ground when she turned onto Sherman Avenue to head for the finish. Somehow she got up and limped/ran, listing badly to one side, then collapsed as soon as she crossed the finish line. She was an Ironman, with one minute and 30 seconds to spare.
My final results: 13:03:45. Swim, 1:25:15; Bike, 7:06:17; Run, 4:17:51 I finished 45th in my age group (22nd in the run). I didn't win the race, and I didn't qualify for world championships in Kona, but it was a victory. It felt great. I trained with Phase IV, with specific help from Bob Forster and Aishea Maas. Her "Rock it out!" mantra helped me many many times throughout the day. I did some specific swim training with Ian Murray, who was terrific. He helped me swim extremely comfortably, and the only reason I didn't go faster was my first-timer fear of burning out on the first event. (I'll do better next time - for both of us!)
I celebrated with a group of other IM athletes the day after the race. Two of them were the top local male and female finishers, and all of them were introduced by my gracious friends George and Linda Rohlinger (both IM CdA finishers from prior years, and former LATC members now living in gorgeous Coeur d'Alene). I contributed a terrific bottle of wine to the party (G Major 7, an estate cabernet from Gargiulo Vineyards).
There will be another IM in my near future. I just have to figure out that careful balance of training and life, which boils down to only work, sleep, eat, train. I encourage you to give it a try if you are even remotely considering it. I learned a lot about priorities, about health and fitness, and I re-learned the satisfaction of setting a lofty goal and achieving it. I am heading to San Francisco to qualify for the Boston Marathon on July 26. Since I ran such a good IM marathon I figure I should be able to do it. I wonder if I should count SF as my 6th or 7th marathon? Does the marathon part of the IM qualify for the count?
Thank you everyone for being part of this journey. See you out there!
If you are still reading, here are a few more of the messages that friends sent with me to the race. (Thanks again Andrea for compiling them!)
"Your finishing this amazing competition makes all your friends believe the extraordinary is possible. You will inspire us to achieve beyond what we think is possible as well, and will start an avalanche of success for everyone your story touches. You are not alone. Our energy is with you through the race. We believe that you can do it. We know that you will do it. We will be thinking of you and sending wishes of encouragement. We are so proud of you! What you will accomplish is the height of excellence and we are uplifted just knowing you and witnessing what you are accomplishing. It is incredible!!!. Baseball-wise: it's the World Series and you are going to win! (only it's harder - much, much harder) P.S. Remember during the race tomorrow: Keep going Audra!! No matter how hard it gets, you can do it. We know you can!!!"
"The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you! You have everything you need to succeed, Audra. Just keep it up!!!"
"...You are a champion already in our minds! Just keep pedaling one pedal at a time and stepping one step at a time. But most importantly, keep your mind cool and focused. You CAN do it!!! Your dream and vision are about to come true and you did it all by yourself."
"Winning is about heart, not just legs. It's got to be in the right place. (Lance Armstrong)"
"Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. (Muhammad Ali)"
"You WILL survive. You WILL finish. You WILL succeed. I know it. All your friends know it. You know it. Do it."
"You know you can do this! We all know you can do this...so get it over with and get back here so we can celebrate!! You've done the swim, the bike and the run now just put it all together. You've got this! I'll be following you and cheering on from here. When you start to get tired or frustrated just listen and you'll hear us all yelling your name! In spirit we'll all be with you. GO AUDRA GO!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! You are going to ROCK the Ironman!"
"The more improbable the situation and the greater the demands made, the more sweetly the blood flows later in release from all that tension. The possibility of danger serves merely to sharpen awareness...And perhaps this is the rationale of all endurance sports: you deliberately raise the ante of effort and concentration in order to clear your mind of trivialities. It is a small scale model for living, but with a serious difference: your actions, for however brief a period, are truly serious. (unknown)"
Here are some funny ones;
"Go Fast, Go Hard, Rock On! Just don't kill yourself, cause you still have to help me with the Malibu Tri."
"Despite the fact that I'm not physically in Idaho cheering you on, know that I'm in a bar somewhere in SoCal with my face painted and a big A on my stomach. We painted UDRA on Dexter's belly, but he keeps sitting on the wrong side of me...Me and Dexter will still be in the bar waiting for you after you return for some more celebrating."
"You're only allowed to stop if your legs fall off. Both of them."
"Make sure you finish ahead of the 73 year old lady who's still in the water."
"Don't disgrace yourself by quitting. (Or puking on yourself - that's never a good look)."
"If you finish in under 13.5 hours, I will complete a non-stop 2 mile run by August 31st."