Last year at Ironman Coeur d’Alene the weather was pretty windy and cool. The water temperatures was in the 50’s and it was cool and windy. I signed up for this race specifically because that type of weather suits me well. Cool, damp and even a little rainy. I don’t like the heat. So, when the weather forecast was predicting temperatures of 107+ for raceday, I knew my perfect race day was not to be.
My goal for this race from the minute I finished Ironman Lake Placid last season was to go sub 12 hours along with around a 4 hour marathon time. That goal went by the wayside in the last two weeks leading up to the race. I knew from there it was going to be a matter of just surviving at that point.
We arrived in Spokane, Washington and made our way to Coeur d’Alene, ID, which is about an hour drive, on the Thursday before the race. We settled into our AirBnB accomodations which were about about 20 minutes northwest of town and about 10 minutes from the bike & run course on Coeur d’Alene Drive. It was nestled on a hilltop overlooking the surrounding mountains. A perfect location to get away from all the Ironman drama that goes on in town. I have to say though that I think Coeur d’Alene is a little better than Lake Placid in this respect since it is larger and more spread out. Lake Placid is so small and there is just such a high concentration of athletes there, so you can’t get away from overhearing all of the pre-race chatter.
We headed down to Tony’s Restaurant for dinner which just down the road on Coeur d’Alene Drive and overlooks the lake. It is nestled in cove which is great because it gets shaded from the sun in the evening. They have a big outdoor deck and the food was great. We were fortunate to get a table since we didn’t make any reservations. We ended eating here twice during our stay.
On Friday, we headed over to Post Falls and had a killer breakfast overlooking the Spokane River at LePeep. Then we headed over to the race expo area in City Park for athlete check-in and to check out the expo. I had “All World Athlete” (AWA) status this year, so one of the perks is that you get to go to the front of the line for check-in. This was nice at first, but then you end up having to stand in the regular line with everyone else once you fill out your waiver forms. When I went up to register, I handed the girl my drivers license and she said “Pennsylvania?! There was just another athlete from PA.” I said “is her name Megan?” Sure enough it was Megan, who I met up at the Todd Wiley Lake Placid camp a couple months before. I spotted her ahead in the line and we chatted a bit while waiting in the line. This would be Megans’ first Ironman.
The other AWA perk was that you get an special swim cap for the race. I thought this would be great for my wife to pick me out from the other swimmers. When they gave it to me it was a black cap and the volunteer said that they prefer you not wear them since they are hard to see in the water. Who the hell came up with that color??!! They gave me a typical bright green one along with it which is what I wore anyway. This AWA thing isn’t turning out to be any big deal so far.
One nice thing was the swag backpack they gave out this year. I really liked it since it was kind of a duffle/slash backpack and very functional. I will probably a lot more use out of this than the other ones I got in previous years. I also like the Seattle Seahawk color scheme too!
I decided to attend the pre-race meeting this time since it was a new race venue for me and with all the heat concerns. They really didn’t say a whole lot about the heat other than they would meet with local emergency officials on Saturday night and determine if any other changes to race would need to be done. They had already announced that we would be starting an hour earlier at 5:45am for age groupers to help get out of the hottest part of the day. Personally, that would not help me much since I would be getting more run time in the hottest part of the day. I would rather be biking during that time.
I had used TriBike Transport to ship my bike to the race along with a gear bag to put my aero helmet, bike shoes, tools & spare parts and my wetsuit. We were staying in CdA for vacation the week after and I didn’t want to be lugging this stuff around. TriBike Transport is a great service and I will be doing a separate post on that with more details soon. They allow you to check your bike in and out as needed in case you want to take it for a spin before the race. This was great cause I didn’t have any way to transport my bike back to our apartment. I also checked my gear bag out and left my bike with them. They also had mechanics there to pump tires and put your pedals back on.
After the meeting I did a short swim in the lake just beyond the beach swimming area. The water was quite refreshing since it was already around 100 degrees out. I was surprised how cool the water had remained despite the heat of the week.
For the rest of Friday and Saturday I pretty much laid low. I did take my bike out for a ride down CdA Drive on Saturday afternoon to make sure everything was working correctly. It also gave me a taste of the heat and I tested out my new cooling sleeves. I was surprised of the cooling effect that the material provided. It felt like I had menthol on your arms. Ride went well and then I checked it into transition for the race. I had bib #462 for this race so I was pretty close to the bike exit in the transition area. I also checked in my bike and run bags with the essentials in them. I left out any nutrition stuff which I would put in before the race.
On Saturday night we cooked at the apartment and I made my traditional pre-race Chickpea Sweet Potato Coconut Curry. It is just packed with good stuff, but I usually cut back on the spice a bit when I make it before any races. After dinner I prepped and packed all of my race nutrition so it was ready to go in the morning. I loaded up two ziplocs full of 4 chopped up Amrita bars each, 5 bottles of Skratch Labs hydration, 1-3hr bottle of UCan SuperStarch, Base Performance Salt, and 2 PB&J sandwiches to put in special needs bags. I didn’t get to bed until around 10PM though, so with a 3am wake-up 5 hours of sleep is not great for the night before an Ironman. I did sleep fairly solidly though.
We got to downton CdA a little before 4am and found a good parking spot on the Coeur d’Alene Ave, just off of 1st Ave. This would give my wife the ability to not be trapped in by the race course and it was very close to the transition area. At 4am I walked down to transition, dropped my special needs bags off, got body-marked, and loaded up my bike and bike & run bags with nutrition. All in about 15-20 minutes. The transition area is nice and compact so you don’t have to hike all over the place like you do in Lake Placid. I even managed a couple Port-O-Can stops in there too. I headed back up to the car and relaxed with my wife for the next 45 minutes or so until it was close to race time.
Denise and I headed back down to transition about 5:20am. We said our goodbyes and I then made my way into the herd on route to the swim start. I also dropped my swim cap along the way and another athlete was nice enough to grab and run it up to me. Thanks dude! The first cannon blast fired as the male pro’s started their swim promptly at 5:30am.
I made my way down to the beach and saw there were a ton of people trying to do a warm-up swim. It was so packed I didn’t know how they could actually swim. I wanted to get in the water though, so I waded in up to my shoulders. There was a bit of an opening at that point so I did a few strokes just to make sure everything was working right and my goggles were not leaking. The cannon went off again as the female pros went splashing into the lake. I had a good perspective on that being just out from them.
I got out of the water and then situated myself at the very front of the 1:16 – 1:30 finish corrale. I figured I would split the difference between my last two IM Swims(~1:17) and my goal time for this race, which was ~1:15.
Eventually the age groupers were started and we steadily moved towards the start archway like a herd of cattle. Before I knew it, I was heading into the water and on my way. I b-lined for the outside lane which was on the right side of the counter-clockwise course. I had a pretty open lane to swim in with minimal traffic. The only bad thing about this location was I had to spot to the left to see the pylons and the sun was coming up in that direction. I seemed to manage ok though by utilizing the kayakers and paddleboarders on my right.
The water was mostly smooth until we got out to about to pylon 6 or 7(of 8). The water got a little more choppy out there and there a few more boats around. There was also the taste/smell of gas out there too. Yuk! From the first left turn until the second where you start to head back was really difficult to see since we were heading right into the sun. It also seemed to be more congested with swimmers here too, since the boats were up close the pylons.
The swim back to shore was fairly smooth, especially after the light chop smoothed out. I stayed on the outside all the way in. When I finally touched sand with my hand, I popped up and made my way down the beach for lap #2. I checked my watch and it read 0:35:40…Sweet! I quickly multiplied that in my head and thought “a possible 1:12 finish?!!”
Now with a boost of confidence with my first lap split, I decided to swim on the inside lane this time to hopefully gain some more time by staying closer to the pylons. I was actually swimming inside the pylons at some points too. This approach actually backfired on me though. The additional traffic in this area actually slowed me down a bit. I do get a bit flustered when there are other people swimming in front of and around me and this happened much more on this lap. I probably would have done better on the outside again and I probably would not have had to go as far out this time too. Oh well, lesson learned.
Eventually I was coming down the home stretch. Not before seeing a big beach chair on the bottom of the lake though. I had to do a double-take under water. The water in Lake CdA is pretty clear and there is always things on the bottom to look at and help pass the time away. It is not quite as clear as Lake Winnipesaukee(Timberman 70.3 in NH) though.
I finally reached the sandy bottom for the last time and exited the water. I looked at my watch and saw 1:14 and some change…not the 1:12 I was thinking but still under my goal of 1:15. Mike O’Reilly called out my name and town at about the same time I was looking at my watch too. As I made my way up the beach, I heard Denise yelling my name. There was a buffer area between us and the spectators so I could not reach her, but gave a wave.
Offical Swim Time: 1:14:57
The 1st transition went rather smoothly. I headed over the wetsuit strippers and got stripped. Then down the nearby row of bags to collect my bike bag and into the tent. Tent was pretty full but I quickly found a couple empty chairs. I got my shoes on, helmet on and my new arm cooling sleeves. I had to pack my wetsuit and everything into the bag myself since most voluteers were pretty busy at this point. Then out of the tent to the sunscreen applicators.
The lady said I had a bad wetsuit burn on my neck it was going to hurt. She said something like “better to have a little burn now and not a sunburn later!” As she padded the suncreen on the back of my neck it instantly started to sting. I let out a long grunt of a yell and it eventually subsided. They lathered me up quite well and even got my bald head so I wouldn’t get racing stripes fromt he vents in my bike helmet. I left my helmet off until after they put the sunscreen on. I then headed down the rows of bikes to the last tree on the right and halfway down the row instantly spotting my black and yellow Quintana Roo. Unracked her and out the archway.
This was one of my fastest Ironman tranistions so far. Partly due to the compact transition area of this venue, but I think I did go quicker than usual.
T1 Time: 0:05:55
The start of the bike weaves through town and eventually heads up Lakeside Ave paralleling Sherman Ave, which is the main street in town. People line the road cheering as you head up the slightly inclined street. It surely gets you fired up to get moving on the bike . You then make a few sharp turns zig-zagging through a few other back streets in town before heading out onto Coeur d’Alene Drive. This first out-and-back 14mile section to Higgens Point is pretty flat and you get into a nice steady cadence with speeds well into the 20’s. You surely don’t want to get too carried away here since it is just the beginning of a long day. There is one smaller climb on this section right after passing Tony’s restuarant, but it is over pretty quickly. The wind was out of the North-Northeast that day, so the way back to town was a bit easier I felt. This wind would also help on the first out section after heading back to town too.
I settled myself into a nice easy pace and immediately started taking on hydration and nutriton. My thought was to try to take in as much as I could early since I may not feel like eating much once the heat kicks in. I had about 4 cut up Amrita Bars and 3 hour bottle of Ucan SuperStarch, plus two bottles of Skratch Labs hydration mix. I also purchased some Base Performance Salt a week before the race due to the iminent heat. I heard about this stuff from Christine Lynch on the ZenTriathlon Podcast, who spoke very highly of it. I had not trained with this stuff so it was a bit of a gamble. I figured it was just salt so it wasn’t that big a deal. I had used salt tabs in previous years without any issues.
The 1st 14 miles went by pretty quickly and I was heading back into town again. I was scanning the streets the whole time for Denise but didn’t see her until I was heading out. She didn’t even see me as she was trying to get her iPhone setup to videotape me. I yelled to her as I passed by and she looked up with a look of surprise on her face. Next it was up the ramp and over the Spokane River bridge in a single file, no passing zone line.
There is a about 2 major and 1 minor climb on this next section. The first one, Cougar Gulch, is the toughest one at about a 6% grade for a mile and half. You hit this one at mile 21 and 77 on the course. I was able to pass a bunch of people here by spinning a high cadence in a easy gear. You surely don’t want to burn yourself up in a big gear here as you have to do this again at mile 77. One guy I passed was nice enough to tell me the back of my tri tank was riding up exposing my lower back to the sun which was cool. I surely didn’t want a trampstamp sunburn!
The next climb was Mica Bay to FIghting Creek which is only a 2% avg grade, but it is 3.3 miles long. Seems a bit worse than that, but that could be since there is another climb right after from Fighting Creek to Sun Up Bay Road which is another 2% for 2.1 miles. So basically you are on a average 2% grade for over 5 miles here. The nice thing is what comes up must come down and you get some pretty good downhill speeds on these descents since the road is in good condition and you have a good amount of room. I stayed in the aerobars for most of them and just let it rip.
There is a smaller uphill section right before the turnaround at 37.5-38, but it isn’t bad in relation to the others. Some say that this back to town section is easier, but on this race day we had a bit of a headwind out of the North-Northeast, so it wasn’t as easy as I expected. The climbs were still pretty decent on the way back, but probably not quite as bad.
I continued to drink and feed often on this first out-and-back. I went through my hydration bottles and started taking water from the aid stations. I finished my 3 hour Ucan Superstarch bottle in less than three hours (hmm?) and ate almost all 4 of my Amrita bars. That is a lot volume to put in ones stomach. One thing too is that the Special Needs station is at the Higgens point turnaround at around mile 66, so you have 10 more miles after the halfway point until you can refuel again.
I passed by Denise again, now ready for me and situated on the median by Northern Idaho College just before the halfway point. I flipped my Garmin to the total bike time screen and saw I was just a few minutes under 3 hours…Sweet! I surely didn’t feel like I overdid it so far and my watts were below my goal watts too. I thought…”Wow! I could go under 6 hours maybe?”
I cruised out along the lake again to Higgens Point to pickup my special needs bags, which had 3 bottles of Skratch Labs, a big bag of Amrita bars and a fresh tube of Base salt. I think I may have had more than 4 bars in there since I had trouble squeezing it into my bento box. I also had packed a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, which was cut into quarters. I grabbed a quarter of that and stuffed it in my mouth. I am really getting an huge amount of calories in so far here.
Everything was going pretty well despite the heat really kicking up now. That was until about mile 85 of the bike on the South Whitemire Drive climb. I had taken a big lick of Base Salt and a swig of my water bottle with my very hot hydration mix in it. It immediatly turned my stomach. It was imminent that I was going to puke. Do I pull over and do it? I was in the middle of the highway so that was not that easy to do. I was on a hill too, so if I stopped, getting moving again would not be easy. I could not stop it now and it just came out. Once …. ugh… OMG! …and another wave… blah! all that food and drink gone…to the pavement..and again! Three times!
Things kind of went downhill from here. The heat was really kicking up now. The ambient heat coming off the black pavement was like being in a sauna. My stomach was still a bit queasy, so I wasn’t able to replace the lost nutrition right away. I ended up just ditching my heated water bottles and just getting cold water bottles from the aid station. They didn’t have any electrolytes in them so now I was going be depleted there. I was not going to do Gatorade either. I couldn’t bear to do any of Base Salt either. Just a bad situation here.
My pace on the bike slowed from 19-20mph to around 16-17mph now. As I made my way on the last leg back to town, the carnage on the road was everywhere. Bikes were laying on the side of the road and people were just sitting in the shade under trees behind them. People were cramming underneath the tents at the aid stations. Athletes walking their bikes up the big climb. The heat shimmering off the road ahead was causing a mirage above the road. It was all starting to play on my mind.
I finally hit the bridge over the Spokane river and made a sharp right down the ramp and headed for T2. Finally, the bike was done. Surprisingly, I still managed to pull out a decent 6:20 bike split. Only 5 minutes off my PR of 6:15 last year in Lake Placid. Had this been a “normal” weather day in CdA, I probably could have pulled off a new PR bike split. Not to be. I swung into the Bike In chute, dismounted and handed off the QRoo to a volunteer.
Bike Time: 6:20:13
I ran through the racks of bikes and picked up my run bag and then off to the changing tent. A big burly guy was standing outside the entrance with a big bucket of ice cold water. He asked if I wanted to get dumped and I said “Hell Ya!” Aaaaaaaahhhhhh! That was freakin cold, but man did it feel good. There was not very many people in the changing tent. I figured there was a lot of people still out on the road. One guy came in behind me and just laid on the ground. The volunteers came running over to him and then medical staff came over and started asking him questions about where he was and what his name was.
I really took my time getting changed. The volunteers were bringing over ice cold towels over and draping them on my head and neck. It felt so good. I was in no hurry to leave. I ended up changing my race kit tank top. My black Amrita jersey is mostly black and is really hot in the baking sun. I had the wherewithall to stick my white Sleeping Dog Bike Shop tank in my run bag and it was a smart move. I ate something out of my bag and had some water too. I also took a leak which was really dark. Not a good sign. I eventually got done changing after about 15 minutes in transition. A new record long time in transition. I stopped off at the suncreen stand and let them lather me up again and then headed out of T2 running.
T2 Time: 0:15:02
I started off on the run and through the spectator-lined chute heading to the run course. I started taking inventory of my physical ability to run and everything seemed ok. I was running, not very fast, but I was running. I eventually saw Denise about halfway up Lakeview Drive and stopped to chat with her for several minutes. I told her about the conditions on the bike and she couldn’t believe I was doing this. My Dad called her while I was standing there and I answered the phone. I think I suprised him a bit . I told her I was going to go out and see what I could do. We said goodbye and I’ll see ya in a couple hours..hopefully.
It was around 1:30-2:00PM at this point and it was REALLY freakin hot. I continued to mostly run for the first several miles which meandered through some smaller backstreets in town before turning right back onto Coeur d’Alene Drive. Many of the people that lived there were out hosing us down and cheering us on. I didn’t realize it but my socks and sneakers were getting really wet. A sure way to cause some blisters and foot problems. I didn’t care. We passed by a small beach and there was an older Ironman athlete coming out of the lake in his running outfit. I was entertaining that idea and thought maybe on the next loop.
Once out on Coeur d’Alene drive people were actually running in the grass to the right of the path. It was next to the golf course and it had some trees lining it giving some shade. it was like a mad hunt for any shade you could find. That ended shortly when we hit the large condo building. The running trail that parallels CdA Drive and runs along the lake is very exposed with minimal shade. It was so hot. I ran through the first aid station and the stench of the port-a-johns’ was brutal! I took ice and water at every aid station and walked through each one. I filled up my handheld water with ice and water and would just constantly drizzle it over my head, back and arms as I ran.
Walking became more prevalent as I go closer and closer to the turnaround point. I had a pain on my toes of my left foot. I stopped at a bench and took off my shoe to see what was going on. Meanwhile, Denise is seeing me stopped on the athlete tracker and starting to freak out a bit. I apparently didn’t cut the toenail on my “pinky” toe and it was cutting into the side of the toe aside of it and it was bleeding all in my sock. I got some Ruby’s Lube out of my FuelBelt and rubbed it on it to ease the cutting a bit. it helped but I could still feel it. I wished I had some nail clippers!
By the time I reached the turnaround at mile 6.5 I was doing more walking than running. My quads were cramping up whenever I tried to run. I started taking some Coca-Cola and potato chips along with water & ice. Some aid stations had ice in the coke, but others didn’t. I asked why and they said Ironman said they are not allowed to put ice in the coke and gatorade? WTH? Nothing like 106 degree coke! Ugh. What is the purpose of that WTC?
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
– Harry S Truman
I pretty much walked the entire way back to town. The heat was unbearable and I could barely maintain a trot for more than 10 yards now. Throwing up on the bike had really taken its toll on my now. That was just too much lost hydration and nutrition at a key time in the race. My quads were now starting to cramp just walking up any incline in the path. I started entertaining the idea of dropping out. This was becoming not fun and the thought of having to walk another 13 miles out-and-back again was not something I wanted to do.
I passed my friend Megan from LP Camp near the big condo buidling. She had just started the run and was actually running. Denise was tracking her on MyAthleteLive and had told me that she saw her bike splits really slow down when the heat picked up. This was her first Ironman, so I really hoped she would finish, so I was glad to see her still going.
At this point I am not being at all competitive and it would be just finishing for the sake of saying I finished. I also thought that I could end up doing more damage to myself and screwing up the rest of our vacation or maybe worse. I have finished two of Ironman events already, so just finishing doesn’t really appeal to me now. I wanted a sub 12 hour finish and now that that was out of reach, I was lacking the desire to finish. It just seemed like a waste of another three or more hours. I also didn’t want to Denise to have to stand around worrying for another possible 3 hours.
I walked the 2 miles back through the neighborhood streets again into town. The spectators were still cheering away and but it didn’t help me. I made a right turn and saw Denise sitting on the curb ahead. She had a bit of a stressed look on her face and asked how I was doing. I said that I am thinking of dropping out and I could easily see a sign of relief on her face. That pretty much made my desicision for me. She said that she could hardly bear walking around out here and she didn’t know how I was managing to do this.
There was still another .5 mile to go to the turnaround point down at City Park. The worst thing was I had to walk down Lakeview Drive again which was still lined with spectators cheering. You could also hear people finishing on Sherman Ave. which was a block over. I walked down to the turnaround and just kept going straight through a small opening in the fencing that lined the course. It was a fairly easy decision at this point. But it still sucked.
Run Time: DNF
I found a nice shaded spot under a tree near the transtion area and took relief. I was bummed to not have finished, but also relieved to be out of the heat. Trevor and Heather Wurtele were sitting not too far away and Trevor was looking pretty wiped out from the race, which he finished 3rd overall. I eventually gathered up enough energy to get up and go gather up my bike and transition bags. I found some Ironman staff people and handed them my race chip. I just wanted to get out of there at this point and go get something to eat…and have a cold beer. It really sucks that Ironman does not even give you any food unless you finish. $700 should atleast get you a slice of pizza, regardless of finishing.
I keep thinking back on the day and having some regrets of not finishing, but I quickly remind myself of why I think I made the better decision. If this was my first Ironman, I probably would have pushed through it, but it isn’t and my goals are different now. So, time to re-focus on my remaining races this year and then on to next year.
I also started thinking of Megan who was still out there. We were tracking her on MyAthleteLive and saw she was walking a lot based on her splits. We drove out along the course after getting some food to find her. Her family had stayed at the home they rented and tracked her online and would then meet her for the finish. We figured she could probably use some encouragement. We finally spotted her at mile 19 on the course and she was looking pretty deflated. She said she was considering dropping out, but I told her she was almost to the turnaround and that she can do it. I think it helped her because she seemed a little more uplifted when we left. She was also afraid she would not make the cutoff.
We tracked her the rest of the night and I was happy she finished in a little over 16 hours. Probably not her goal time, but given the situation finishing is a huge accomplishment. I was happy for her and she texted me the next day thanked us for coming out to cheer her on. She said it really helped her finish. If I am not going to finish at least I could help someone else to.