Wednesday, July 04, 2012

RACE REPORT: Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Part 2 - The Swim

How can you describe the swim start of Ironman Coeur d'Alene to someone who hasn't been there? Two-thousand athletes, shoulder-to-shoulder. A narrow stretch of sand. Two thousand hands hovering above the buttons on their watches. Without warning, a cannon fires. Two thousand voices collectively say "Oh shit!", press the start button on their wrist. Two thousand tiny beeps emit as we start running toward the water. The word "terrified" doesn't begin to cover the emotion of the moment.

In this life, some luck gets handed to you, and some you make happen. In this swim start, the luck that got handed to me was from an experienced CdA athlete from Endurance Nation who told us about "the pole position". You see, there's this big telephone-pole-like thing sticking up from the water about halfway down the beach. Naturally, no-one wants to swim into it. So people don't like to line up behind it, and when they start swimming they give it a wide berth. I lined up right behind it.

The luck that I made happen was that I turned to the people around me and asked them if they were all in the correct section of the beach. I told them that this was the "nice people zone" and that everyone standing there was going to be kind to their neighbors during the swim. I said we would be swimming under an aura of rainbows and unicorns. I believe that when you plant an idea like that, it takes on a life of its own. The people around me were smiling, and as the "oh shit" moment arrived and we ran into the water, they really were quite nice.

I aimed right for the pole, with the intention of skimming just beside it on the left side. This is where my straight swimming skills come into play because fortunately I didn't run into it and knock myself unconscious. As predicted, other swimmers gave it a wide berth and so it was that just after the photo taken above, I found myself in a giant bubble of clear water for the first 150 or so yards of the IMCdA swim start. Not a bad way to begin!

Soon though, I saw to my right a converging mass of humanity, all of whom unfortunately seemed to be still swimming my speed. I know for a fact that almost none of them would be swimming my speed at the end of 2.4 miles. I know this because only 98 other people did just that. But the several hundred folks around me all felt that this was their pace, and so it was up to me to keep up with the blistering charade until they all petered out somewhere around the point where they said to themselves "Shit, I'm really out of breath, I ought to slow down before I expire out here in the lake!"

This was about the time that I took a hard blow to the head, Rocky Balboa style (can you imagine the water flying in slow-mo away from my swimming face?). This was also about the time that the first of the wind-inspired whitecaps reared its ugly head. Now I'm not saying that this swim was any IMSG 2012 or anything, or even as bad as IMFL when I did it in 2006, but the chop was formidable. I took in a nice big mouthful of lakewater after the headshot and boom! Panic set in just like that. Frantically I took a breaststroke. Big mistake! People in back of me, not appreciative, kept on swimming right over the top of me. Only thing to do was to go head-down, swallow the lake water, and as Dory says, keep on swimming.

After that, it was just battle-the-chop for a view of the buoy, head down and swim, battle-the-chop, head down and swim. Rinse, repeat. Fortunately, I got some big patches of clear water along the way, mixed with times where I was shoulder-to-shoulder. After we turned the 2nd buoy and headed back for shore, the waves were coming from behind us now and it almost felt like body surfing in. Swam right up to the beach, jumped out and ran through the timing gate. 29 minutes. Nice! Run back into the water and head out for round two.

The second time around was better, and worse. Better because there were far fewer people around me. Worse because the wind picked up and that meant the waves were worse. Sighting was pretty much a joke, but I could see there were bright colored swim caps in front of me so that was probably the right direction to be going. Through the entire second lap, I had two swimmers flanking me, probably pacing off of me - one off of my left shoulder and one off of my right. At first I was a bit annoyed, but then I realized that these were my guardian angels. As long as they were there, no one could run into me. That made me smile and I enjoyed the second lap with my angels in place. Wayne got this shot of me swimming with my two angels, me in the pink cap and them in green. Isn't this awesome??

By this time though we were starting to overtake the swimmers who were still on their 1st lap. These are the dangerous people: the zig-zaggers, the breast-strokers, the panicked flailers. A kayak zoomed in front of us towards someone in trouble and we almost ran into it. Halfway to the beach heading straight in and a swimmer came out of left field swimming perpendicular to our course. I have no idea where they were headed but it wasn't remotely in the right direction. We wove around the obstacle course of the first lap swimmers and with the wind (and choppy waves) at my back, I realized that the part of the day I love the most (minus the Rocky Balboa part) was rapidly coming to a close. Oh when will they start the Ironman with a 10k swim? Sigh.

That was it for me. 1:01:47, 98th person out of the water. Not as fast as I had hoped, but with the wind, waves, and mob, I was happy with that!

Then it was on to being gloriously spoiled by the race volunteers. Lay down, let them peel your wetsuit off. Someone else goes and finds your bag. One of the best things about being one of the fastest women swimmers is that the changing tent is pretty empty when you get there. I got my pick of chairs and volunteers and I got a good one. If I knew her name, I'd say a big thank you! My transition bag had exactly what I needed and no more, I went through my items just as I had practiced, although I dithered over whether or not to put on the arm warmers or not. My volunteer said "it's pretty chilly out there, better take them", Thank You O Wise Volunteer! I was very glad to have them when I got out on the course.

As I mounted my bike, I saw Asa and Wayne right at the bike exit yelling my name. Asa had made bright blue shirts that said "Team Robin, go Ironmom!" and that girl has some theatrical lungs on her so they weren't hard to miss. I was so happy to see them sending me on my way, out onto the prettiest part of the Coeur d'Alene course.

Next Up: The Bike!


Jen Small said...

woot!! great swim :D
love that picture too!!
looking forward to the bike ...

Scott said...

A.W.E.S.O.M.E. post! Because I am truly in awe.

Marv said...

I love this. I especially like your Rocky Balboa bit. "it ain't how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." That's you Robin.

Kathy said...

You have inspired to work my swim harder. I usually count on my years as a kid but now I want more. :) Great job! Looking forward to the next part!

ThreeBoysFull said...

Wow the picture of all the racers lined up on the beach puts the swim start in perspective! Love that your husband was able to get a picture of you during the swim. =)

Kristin said...

woot! great swim!

Paige said...

Nice swim! I, unfortunately, was not in the "nice people section". Next time, I'm looking for those darned butterflies and unicorns! I will share the "pole position" idea with friends doing IMCDA13. I think I was one bike rack away from you but in the hustle of race morning preparation I didn't get a chance to say hello. Congrats on your race!