Friday, July 6, 2012

Ironman Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 2012

It has nearly been two weeks since I participated in the 2012 Ironman-Coeur D’Alene and with the past weeks to reflect on this experience, it is safe to say it has been my favorite race to date. Many things contributed to this race being so enjoyable to me and just want to give a shout out to Aunty Sharon and Uncle Randy for making it possible. I guess things started with one day, Brando and I were at Twin Cities Running Company on my birthday (Aug) and I got a call from Aunty Sharon. After the usual birthday singing, she told me that she had got me something big and told me that she had signed me up for Ironman Coeur D’Alene (CDA). I was beyond surprised and had one of those moments where you know things are going to change. I did not really comprehend the entirety of the gift I had just been given or how much training would be expected to complete the event but I just knew that I had a massive adrenaline rush for the unknown physical challenge ahead of me. I had nearly 11 months to train for the event. Currently, I was signed up for Honolulu marathon (Dec) so decided that I would start training for the Ironman after that. During my research program that summer, I remember dreading to try and write my training program for the Ironman. I knew I was capable of coming up with something online and tailoring it to myself but less than half-heartedly believing in the effectiveness of all the planning and logistics that an IM training plan would have, I finagled together a training plan in the library one day. “Unfortunately” I logged off of the computer I was using without sending the training plan to my email so it was gone. At first I was super angry because of all the time I spent putting it together but even right at the library, I realized how much I was dreading to do all of the prescribed swims/bikes. With that, I was going to train when I could fit it in and just do what I thought needed to ben done to do to get by (cross the finish line). Unfortunately, I see myself using this wing-it “strategy” in other areas of my life and am kind of disappointed in myself for it. Perhaps I’ll learn soon.
 During the school year, I found out that I was going out to the Boston marathon (April) and I avoided biking much to not make my legs feel heavy during marathon training. Jeremy lent me his road bike and I was able to get out on it a few times before but not much substantial training on it before the marathon. I was trying to swim a couple times a week but found that without the structure of a training plan, it was easy to see a couple weeks go by without getting into the pool. I knew that after Boston I was going to be cramming a lot of swimming/biking in. The following week after Boston I was signed up to volunteer at the Trail Mix 50k/25k but impulsively signed up to run the 25k with Jeremy and a few of his friends. I think I just wanted to prove to myself I could run it, and it would give me another week or so to prolong the necessary swimming/biking I would do. Finding excuse after excuse, I was not even coming close to putting in the training time that people recommend to be able to even finish an Ironman. The end of the school year was approaching and I was feeling pretty anxious about graduating and the Ironman rapidly getting closer. After the Spring semester was over, I had to take a May-term biomechanics class to finish up my KIN degree. Even though this was an accelerated 3-wk class, I found myself having a ton of time to finally start focusing on biking/swimming. I felt confident in my running ability already but in the race if I started the run with nothing left after the swim/bike, I knew it was going to be a painful experience getting to the finish. With this motivating fear, I started biking with Jeremy’s bike 4/5 times a week and would bike from home to school (35 minutes if hammering) several times a week. I would throw in swims/runs pretty much anytime I could in-between studying. I did one 6 hour bike 4 weeks out and thanks to Spencer who I met out on the trail, it was surprisingly not as taxing as I thought it would have been. Of course, my muscles were pretty fatigued after but when I woke up the following morning, it was nothing like after grinding out a 22-miler on your feet. During this time, Tav asked me to be part of a corporate fitness contest were they tracked how many minutes of exercise per week teams would get and this motivated me to do as much as possible too. 3 weeks from IM, I slugged out a 3 hour run. I was able to get in 1 open water swim with Tav’s wetsuit however his wetsuit was sleeveless and after watching a youtube video of last years IM swim, I found out the cold water temps required a full wetsuit. Luckily, I was able to get a full wetsuit from Cody a week before. Since the bike I was borrowing from Jeremy was too small for me and would have costed about $300 to ship to Idaho, I decided to just rent one in Idaho. Getting dangerously close to the race, I was so caught up in starting a new job, putting things together that I was just in reaction mode.
 I got into Spokane, Washington Friday and met Aunty and Uncle there were we went right to registration to pick up our race packets.
We went to the house we would be staying at and where Aunty’s training friends from Hawaii were also staying. Uncle took me down to the water and I got to try swimming in the full wetsuit for the first time. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected but with the water temp below 60 degrees, I found it super hard to relax in the water. The dark, cold wavy water in combination with Uncle giving me some stroke suggestions after I got out of the water, left me feeling very uncomfortable and worried that I wouldn’t even be able to finish the swim. This wasn’t a very good feeling knowing how much was invested to get me to do the race. The car ride home, I felt a little sick to my stomach thinking about having to swim double the distance I ever had before in water conditions that barely allowed me to swim. We got back to the huge place we were staying at not too far away from the race and had a large yummy dinner.
The group we were with rented out this house for the weekend and it was intimidating seeing all their bikes and gear set up when I got there when I hadn’t even picked up the bike. Needless to say, I felt very thrown together and was again flying by the seat of my pants. The following day we went to pick up the bike I was renting. When we got there, they took the bike off a rack and cut off a $2500 price-tag on it. It was my first time riding a triathlon bike with the gear thingys being on the aero bars.
I road the bike outside the shop for about 10 minutes and felt semi-comfortable with the gears. The bike felt like a bullet and that every single bit of energy I put in made it go forward. I needed this comforting feeling after the experience in the water the day before. We brought the bike to the check-in and after Uncle patiently shuttled me back and forth from the home to the course several times, all my stuff was set to go in their respective transition spots. We went back to the house and had another huge delicious meal.
I was worried how I was going to do gastrointestinally the following day at the race because I had ate so much and moved so little in the previous 2 days. The other 4 people who would be competing the following day were in bed by 7/8 and I knew I had no shot at going to bed that early. My nerves were really kicking in and I was preparing myself to get through whatever I needed to finish the following day. I was still scared that I wouldn’t finish the swim and all of the other expenses for the race would have been wasted. Surprisingly, it didn’t take me too long to get to sleep with the old fan that was blasting on me and after habitually waking up several times during the night before a race, I woke up to the alarm.
 Race Day
 Went downstairs and had a breakfast of banana/almond butter, almond butter on some type of bread thingy, and a glass of water. Things were happening very quickly and gathered my swim stuff and we were out the door. We got to the race course and people were buzzing around all over the place. Some people had their wetsuits on already but not feeling very comfortable in mine, tried to wait until the last second to do so. I vividly remember where I was sitting and the people around me while I was waiting to put the wetsuit on. Uncle helped me put it on and after waiting for a few minutes we started to towards the beach. When I had tried swimming several days before in Lake Coeur D’Alene, water kept getting into my ears from my swim cap so Sam borrowed me some of his wax to put in my ears. With the wax in my ears and two swim caps over my head to protect for the cold water, I could barely hear anything that was going on. We were being crammed into the beach entrance area filing into where we would be started and I remember feeling as if I was about to enter a war. With my hearing obstructed it was dead silent and we were all walking to the water.
The announcer was mumbling things as we waited for 7:00am. Prior to the start, they sang the national anthem and this was pretty nostalgic for me because it brought me back to the uncomfortable feeling of playing in the varsity hockey games as a sophomore. Suddenly, the cannon was off and we started are way towards the water.
 I’ve heard from multiple people that before doing a cold water swim it is a good idea to get in the water before the swim starts to get over the initial shock of being cold. Even though I heard several times, I still chose to not touch the water before the actual race started because of how cold it was and again how long I wanted to delay the reality of having to overcome what I had feared. As a not-so-strong swimmer, I was in the back 25% percent of the people and after the cannon went off I held back for nearly 10 seconds watching the madness in front of me.
 Despite the water being in the upper 50’s, with all the adrenal that was pumping the water did not feel too cold at all. Of course there was the initial shock of being cold, but the mental power of the fear of not being able to complete the swim was overriding any feelings the cold water was physically supposed to be having on me.
For the first few minutes, it was nearly impossible for me to swim as I had been practicing in the pool. There were too many people around me, my body felt rigid and tense from the cold and I kept having to stop my stroke and look up to spot which direction I was going. (had not practiced spotting prior to the swim) Realizing this wasn't very efficient, I just tried to relax as much as possible and follow peoples bright feet under the water. Many of the people were wearing black booties to prevent them from getting too cold in the water which sometimes made my following strategy difficult. I remember just wanted to get out to the far buoy so then I could think to myself that I am at least 25% percent done because 25% felt so much closer to 50%. The swim course was counter-clockwise and consisted of 2 loops. Turning back towards land at about 20 minutes was heartening for me because right then I realized there was no way I was not going to finish the swim unless some disaster happened. This feeling helped me relax a little bit more and just continue the swim and look forward to getting out of the water. Things were manageable at that point and the only issue was my neck was getting tender from the wetsuit rubbing on it. I only felt comfortable breathing to the right side which didn’t help the rash that was developing. It felt like a long time heading back to the land and at about 40 minutes I heard the mumbling of the announcer on the speakers again. It was very energizing hearing something other than the sound of yourself blowing bubbles and the silence of the water. In addition, the half-way point can be exciting in any race. I made it to the end of the first loop and it was required of us to hop out of the water and run across the beach and get back in for the second loop. I was in absolutely no rush to get back in the water and remember chatting to another guy as we walked back into the water.
 It felt surprisingly good to get back in the water after being able to spend 20 seconds outside of it. My muscles were not as fatigued and could relax in the water more than the later portion of coming towards shore. It felt much, much longer to get out to the turn around spot and I remember mistaking the turn around buoy for an earlier one. This was a little flattening but dealt with it. As I made it out heading back towards shore again, the water was getting extremely choppy and I was getting more and more uncomfortable in the water. I was not able to get more than a 1-2 strokes in without having to sit up and breathe for a second. I wasn’t sure how much to attribute the sloppiness of my swimming to fatigue or the conditions but after talking with others after the race, the water really did turn crazy out there. A couple times I sucking in a bunch of water and I haven’t had that feeling since I was a kid in a swimming pool. At least I was hydrating.
On the way back to the beach, I just kept listening and listening for the sound of the announcer again as it would tell me when I am nearing the finish. My chest was really sore at this point along with hamstrings and calfs beginning to cramp a bit. I was nervous in the water thinking if I was already cramping what the rest of the race was going to be like. Because of this, I tried to use my legs as little as possible, as many people suggest to do in the swim. Finally, I heard the voice of the announcer and was crawling out of the water. It was an accomplishment in it of it’s own for me to finish the swim and I think I celebrated a bit after getting out of the water.
At this point I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to finish the race, however knew a lot still had to be dealt with it to be called an Ironman at the end of the day. After all the warm water sunk out through the legs of my wetsuit as I was getting in the water, unlike others around me, I was slightly jogging to my bike. Probably because the people around me at the end of the 1.5 hour swim were not so competitive, I felt to have had more urgency to get onto the bike. I was also excited myself to be doing anything other than swimming and get on the fancy bike. After nearly a 10-minute transition spending time drying off/warming up, putting socks on legs that were cramping and making sure to turn on my GPS tracker, I was out on the bike.
 Leaving the transition area was like leaving a blurry tunnel with all the excitement of getting out of the water and the spectators hollering at us. It is such a exhilarating feeling to be in a hurry and not having to worry about anything else other than the present. I saw Aunty and Uncle and they seemed pretty excited to have saw me out of the water. The ground was wet and I ran across a grass field in my clip-in bike shoes and was still was not able to clip-in to bike for almost 5 minutes and ended up having a volunteer on the course scrape out caked dirt in them before it allowed me to be able to clip in. Once in, I felt like turning up the notch but seeing how slow the others were around me, made me have seconds thoughts and I decided to just chill for a bit.
 Despite not going too fast, I was worried about how cold I was and was very jealous of the others around me who were wearing long sleeves. A few minutes after biking, I took a bite of one of the goodies we got in our race-bag. The good thing about the bike is compared to running, it is so so so easy to get in nutrition without having much GI distress (for me at least). I’m not too sensitive even while running when it comes to getting in nutrition so on the bike, I was able to grab a bite of anything that they were passing out at the aid stations nearly every 10 miles. The miles were going by quickly and it felt effortless on such a nice bike. Just after 10 miles I wasn’t really able to sit in aero position anymore because of having a full bladder but ended up waiting to go longer than I should have. After hopping off my bike and relieving myself, I had trouble clipping in again because of the dried dirt in my clip-ins. Once finally clipped in again, I was easily able to sit in the aero position without my bladder telling me not to.
With training on Jeremy’s bike that was too small for me and not getting aero bars on them until a couple weeks out of the race, trying to sit in the aero position became difficult and realized how bad of an idea it was to wait so long to put aero bars on the training bike. The course was super beautiful and I remember thinking to myself how much I needed to enjoy this because even though just several hours earlier I was not sure if I would be able to finish the race, I realized that it would be over relatively soon. Generally, I was passing more people than was getting passed by and kept getting pleasure out of passing the cone-heads (people in aero helmets) with expensive bikes. It was fun seeing the pros come flying by as we were climbing up one of the hills while they were going downhill. Their zipp wheels and disk wheels really howled as they flew past.
 The climbs were agonizing because everyone would be in their lowest gear and it felt like we were crawling up the road. Usually on the climbs people would pass me because of how much I would hold back on them. Knowing how easy it is to burn the legs while climbing, I held back as much as possible. Plus, for me, I would way rather save energy and fly on the downhills, than spend energy to go from 7 miles and mph 10 mph on the climbs. The downhills were so exhilarating with the scenic backdrops combined with the 40 mph+ speeds. I had my GPS tracker on and thought it was giving an instantaneous speed to the people looking online so I would really hammer going downhill to see what kind of numbers I could show. Found out later that the speeds were only showed as averages. Usually, I don’t feel too uncomfortable going downhill, but several times I had the feeling that if something unexpected happen, I might not be able to bike/run again. Hah..What a stimulating feeling that is though. After going to the bathroom at several non-specified spots on the course and starting to eat the mochi aunty had brought from Hawaii, I reached turn around point at about mile 28, and started to head back to Coeur d’Alene.
The ride back seemed to have longer downhills and it was such a blast cruising. Along the course there were several no-pass-zones which didn’t necesarilly stop me from passing people. I saw Aunty and Uncle again at the turn around in CDA and headed back out. It was fun making small talk with others on the bike. I saw several people wearing Bike Works (Hawaii) shirts and talked to them about knowing Aunty/Uncle and Andrea. Kept going back and forth between another Japanese guy and jokingly asked him if he wanted to eat some of my mochi. All of the riders had their bibs hanging in the back and their first names were printed on their bib. It was fun to say some of their names and sorta pretend to know them.
 On the way back to CDA the final time, my legs were tired and didn’t feel I could hold the same cadence in the gears I was before. I knew I was losing wattage despite never training with a wattometer? My feet were cramping up in Jeremy’s little shoes and I kept having to stand up and stretch my legs also giving my crotch a rest from the seat. How some people do the bike portion without bike shorts..don’t ask me. It was pretty cool to see the 90 miles sign getting closer to town and I realized I “only” had 30 left. This might seem relatively short if I was starting fresh but already had some good time out on the road. Knowing the finish of the bike was so close, just kept pedaling and was looking forward to seeing Aunty and Uncle again before heading out the run. I remember seeing the 100 mile marker as we were flying down a hill and let a pretty loud yell then for how excited I was. The last 12 miles went by quickly as the course became more and more filled with people cheering us on. I was super pumped up at the transition and was really excited to get the biking shoes off.
Naturally, I was nervous about how the run was going to go down because I had trashed my legs on the bike.  I had never biked that distance before and certainly nothing close to the intensity that I sustained for that long. The first thing I did after handing my bike off to a volunteer (so cool!) was take the shoes off right away so I could jog over to my transition area. I saw Sam W. who was just leaving the transition area as I was getting in. Changed socks, threw on my running shoes and switched into a pair of tri spandex that Cody borrowed me. This would be my first marathon not running with the orthotic inserts I have every other race in since I started running. Why I decided to try it on this one..couldn't tell ya. Even though my legs were pretty shot and it was hurting my knees to hobble out of the transition, I was excited to be in full control at this point. I had finished the two new event distances for swimming/biking and not trying to sound conceded.. all I had to do was finish the marathon.
 Again, it was relieving to know that I was going to finish but just didn’t have much of an idea what running pace I could hold. Even at the beginning, I was surprised by how quickly I was passing people who seemed like they were at a stand-still. The temp was starting to increase a bit and the sun had began to get stronger. Within the first mile my calves were cramping up pretty bad and I had to trot backwards down one of the hills. I was kind of just laughing outloud to myself as this happened and new I needed to get in some nutrition so gutted a couple GU’s and several cups of Perform at the aid-station.
The run course was also a out and back that you would do two times. It took around 5 or 6 miles before my knees stopped hurting from the bike and was starting to feel my running legs come back. Kept passing more and more people and for the last 3 miles or so of the first out and back, I ran into guy who was finishing up his second loop of the course and finishing the race. As I came up on him, he asked if I was on my second or first loop. Felt pretty cool to be asked this but, told him it was my was just my first. His name was Scott and we began to run together. It was really helpful to have someone to pace with but I think the 7:30min miles wore me out a bit. We split up going our respective course routes and when he was gone I started to feel more fatigue set in. Scott ended up getting second in the amateur division of the triathlon.
 As usual, the aid-stations were starting to seem further from each other and miles more spread out. Some of the hills were pretty tough and required a near walking pace to not cramp up or burn up the little energy left in the legs. At the aid-stations, I was starting to eat pretzels/potato chips as after about 7 GUs, my stomach did not want anymore of them. It was a good feelings getting to the end of the final turn around and knowing all I had to do was run the 6 miles back into town. Was starting to heat up and feel a little sick and swollen in my neck lymph nodes. Drank soup broth and a couple of the last stops as I remembered how much it helped during the 50-miler. It seemed to help again and was just continuing to slug my way back to town. Seeing some of the people were just heading out on their first leg of the run made me grateful to almost be done. It was kind of frustrating how much I slowed down when comparing to how quick of a pace I worked into in the first half. Was going through the residential neighborhood starting to have really high feelings. I remember tearing up a little a few miles out from the finish knowing that things went 100x better than I could have ever expected them to go. Heard the voice of the announcer as I turned the corner to see the final shoot towards the finish line. As usual at the end of a race, I don’t remember much as I have tunnel vision for the finish line. Was just trying to look as normal as a runner as possible. Crossed the finish line and it would take me a great deal of writing to try and be able to explain how good it felt for the rest of the day.
 I walked over to find Aunty and Uncle and was excited to see their reactions because I knew at least Aunty was worried about me being able to finish the race. Received congrats from a sobbing sister on the phone. I was able to walk around alright after and navigated my way to chocolate milk and Little Ceasar’s pizza that they had for us. Got a massage after and went and found Aunty and Uncle again.
We went out to eat at a resturaunt right on the final shutte of the race and it was so cool to watch others come through the last stretch of their races. After a delicious meal, Uncle dropped off Aunty and returned to the course to watch the finishers until the cutoff at Midnight. I was on such a high during this time and got close to as much pleasure of watching them finish as I did myself. We watched the last finishers come through just 20 seconds after the cutoff. They didn’t officially recognize them as finishers but still announced them as an Ironman.
 As quickly as the Coeur d’Alene Ironman came up, I was on a plane the morning after the race and was slapped back into the dorms. Experienced some of the "post race blues" after all that adrenaline, excitement and anticipation I had because of the race and how suddenly it ended. It took a while for me to re-adjust to things and have been allowing myself to slip on what I have ate/drank the last week and a 1/2 . Getting back into the swing of things now as far as diet/lifestyle after the 4th and will try to get some speed back in the legs once they fully recover. Trying to figure out how to sustain training for triathlons with all the expenses they require. For this race, the only things that belonged to me was literally just my running socks and shoes. Everything else was borrowed or given to me. Actually the socks were given to me too..hah So thanks to all those people who allowed that to happen.
Have been moving around quiet a bit following the Ironman and my legs feel pretty uncoordinated and not so responsive so am continuing to take it easy. I write these blogs to try and preserve these memories but it is tough to try and convey the feelings by writing. If it were a little bit easier, maybe I wouldn’t already be on the hunt for the next race. Currently, am planning on dialing -in on the Twin Cities Marathon and finally hope to break 3:00.

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