Rain…it doesn’t just rain…it pours all day long…all drive long…all evening long. When we (myself and Brynlee, my training buddy) check into the campground the lady is full of good hope though – she is convinced it will stop raining soon, Saturday will be nice and race day will be gorgeous and hot – we’ll see…

 

She is right, Saturday morning and the weather is good enough for us to make it to race package pickup, the pre race meeting, and the customary lake test swim in cold and wavy waters. This is my first IRONMAN brand race in 6 years and Brynlee’s first ever, so we are slightly overwhelmed by the amount of people and the fitness of everybody. Around 2500 people are signed up – just a little different than the smaller local races we usually race, which usually have around 200 people max. This is going to be fun 🙂

 

We check in the bikes and explore downtown Coeur d’Alene for a bit before we retire knowing that the alarm will go off at 4 am and we will be jumping in a rather cold lake at 6.

Race morning greets us with blue skies and no wind, we have a quick breakfast on the drive to town and find a parking spot not too far from the transition zone. Typical race morning with people running around frantically, others all in zen-mode and others yet again desperately hopping from one leg to the other in the line-up to the porta-potty. We make out way down to the beach and get a good warm-up swim in. Since so many people are afraid of the mass starts and thanks to the advanced chip technology IRONMAN has implemented a self feeding rolling start since I did this last. Gone are the days of getting beat up by elbows and ones googles kicked of by a strangers feet, not sure how I feel about that right now, seems like I have practiced my underwater elbow check in vain. We find our place in the field based on our predicted swim times – airing on the side of optimism – and watch the pros go into the water first. Even though they get a 20-minute head start it is very cool and unique to Triathlon that us Joe-averages compete in the very same race as the pros. I don’t think there is any other sport where that is even possible. So we watch Ben Hoffman, Andy Potts and other heroes we usually see on TV only swim off at unbelievable speeds and are all motivated – we can swim that fast, right?

 

The swim is indeed much calmer with the new rolling system, I find my spot and hold a (what I believe to be) fairly decent cruise speed. I always have problems judging my swim speed, no clocks or watches, no tiles and black lines on the lake bottom to give me any indication of how fast I am going. I see Brynlee for little bit in front of me then she disappears, she is a faster swimmer than I am (much to my frustration) so I assume she is off the front somewhere soon.

Coming out of the water the transition zone gives me a good indication of how well or poorly I swam, this time almost all bikes in my vicinity are still in the zone when I come in, so I can’t have done that poorly. The bike is business as usual, I start passing people who swim much faster but bike much slower than me in the first 10-20 kms until I catch up people who are similarly strong cyclists. To my surprise it takes me 10 kms to catch Brynlee. Holy, she either had a crazy swim, or I had a really poor one, or she is rocking it on the bike.

On the climb to the second turn around I keep catching guys – seems like living in the mountains finally pays off…arrived at the second turn around point at roughly km 60 I am in the top 100 for sure I am smiling – that is until I see Brynlee just a few kms after the turn around – what the heck? She is on her aluminum road bike, no aero bars or any other bells and whistles and I only gapped her by a tiny bit. She is indeed kicking some serious but out there. Not that I am competitive at all but I start being a bit worried. I pick it up a notch and end the bike leg in 2:30 with a 36km/h average. That’s pretty decent for an early season race with 1000m elevation gain but is it fast enough to hold of my newly emerging arch enemy?

My transition is fast as usual and I charge out of the zone. About 1km in I check my GPS watch and note that I am running at 4:20 speed, that’s how fast I run my 5 or 10k runs in shorter distances – much too fast for a half marathon. Plus the goal was to cruise through the run and not to kill myself. I regulate the speed down to a comfortable 4:45 and keep trudging away = piece of cake those half Ironmans…

 

That is until I hit the wall at km 5.

Heavy legs, can’t breathe my stomach is not happy about eating gels any more – everything happens at the same time. A km further and I have to walk for the first time. I switch to survival mode, 2nd grade math is happening in my under (or over?) sugared brain – there is a aid station every mile, so every 1.6 kms, each aid station is about 100m long that should be, what…8 aid stations? That can be done – the approach is to run (well lets face it – I am jogging now) in between and walk the aid stations, take ice and water now and coke (the best sports drink of all) later and make it through. To make things worse I see Brynlee at the first turn around and she is dangerously close – and smiling…this can’t happen. If she passes me in her first 70.3 I will never be able to speak to her or even be seen by her again. I feel a burst of energy, or is it panic? and pick it up some. The new design works and I make it through the run, painfully slow but okay. Coming into town is pretty cool, I am far ahead enough to get the finishers chute to myself and lots of people are there to cheer still. I am happy to be done with it and come in at 5:07. My secret goal was to stay under 5 hours with a cruizy easy run. I am not too far off time wise, but my run was far from easy, I had to fight hard and push through a lot of pain – serious analysis is needed to make this better for next year when I am planning on qualifying for the world championships here.

Brynlee comes in just 13 minutes behind me – not only did she kick my derrière on the swim, but she also put a few minutes into me on the run. Fortunately I was able to steal enough time from here on the bike….for now. In reality though I know if she does a few of these and gets a proper bike there will be no chance in hell for me to beat her ever again – so I better enjoy this one.

Results come out and surprisingly both of us didn’t do as badly as it felt (results). Brynlee got 2nd in her age group and 260th overall. Out of 2500! In her first long race ever! Simply amazing!

We spend the afternoon recuperating, taking in the awards ceremony and go out for a well-deserved beer and some junk food. Out of sheer luck we pick the same restaurant the pro’s do, so we get to secretly stare at the legs (our eyed don’t dare to look higher) of Andy, Ben, Heather and others – how do they finish this almost 1 hour faster than us?? It is a mystery.

On the drive back next morning we are still on the post race high (nobody would guess, seeing us hobbling from the car to get Coffee in Sandpoint) and get talking and dreaming: With Brynlee’s participation (and amazing success) she is finally hooked to long distance triathlon and is keen to be part of the enduranceloop effort. She has known me a long time and was very shocked by my dads early death, and the possible connection of stroke and endurance sports.

We are inspired by other teams we saw racing and raising funds for a good cause and start discussing on the drive back.

Maybe we can take enduranceloop a bit further, invite others and make this a team journey. With united efforts we should be able to raise more awareness and we could bring other people on to the team, get a coach helping us to introduce interested newbies to the sport and making sure to avoid common mistakes, such as exclusively training at the same high heart rate, which seem connected to heart issues in endurance athletes.

Clearly we are high on post race endorphins, but the seed is planted…