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
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
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,
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
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
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
"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."