Sunday, July 29, 2012

Swimming Long: 10K National Championships

The only thing more fun than swimming several miles around a beautiful lake on a sunny day is doing it with a bunch of your good friends. And once cannot have better friends than the Aquaducks, my Masters swim group.

I have never swam a 10k in my life, nor can I say that the thought of doing so ever crossed my mind. But the Aquaducks have been venturing to ever greater distances and events, and this year the 10k National Championships came to a lake within spitting distance of my hometown, so how could I resist??

How do you pace a 10k swim? I had no idea. I asked around the more experienced competitors, some of whom had traveled from the other side of the country to compete. The consensus seemed to be "Go out slow on the first lap (2.5k), go a little faster on the 2nd, a little faster on the 3rd, and on the 4th lap, give it what you have left." Sounds like a good plan. My personal goal was to finish feeling strong, so I planned to pace the first lap accordingly. I hoped to finish under 3 hours, but had no idea how reasonable that was (or wasn't).

Most triathletes would run screaming at the thought of swimming 10k, especially when the words "No Wetsuits Allowed" are appended. But swimming in lakes is what I love best, and I'm always sad in a triathlon when I have to get out of the water. My only real worry for this race was my left arm, broken twice at the elbow in the last two years. The elbow especially tends to fatigue, and the wetsuit acts as a sort of neoprene brace that holds it together for longer. Not having swum this far without a wetsuit, I was just hoping it wouldn't give out on me before I was finished.

The swim start was a dream, especially after the mosh pit of Ironman Coeur d'Alene just a couple weeks back. As it turns out, open water swimmers are quite polite compared to triathletes. They all swim straight, kick neatly behind themselves (instead of doing big scissors kicks that knock the triathletes to the left and right) and pace themselves correctly. So the swim start goes off without a hitch, everyone just surging forward at the appropriate pace. I concentrated on swimming smoothly and evenly, with a good steady but non-aggressive pace. The first 2.5 loop went great. Water temperature was ideal, probably about 76. The loop was an odd shape, following the shoreline and had many turns. This kept it more interesting than the standard triangle or rectangle that I'm used to. It also meant you had to be good at sighting, and at distinguishing which buoy you were aiming for.

At the end of the loop, you're back near the swim start and you have your nutrition out on a table, so you swim up and take your drink mix or gels, then swim off again. First loop time was 41 minutes for me, but I had a pretty good draft from the big group at the start, so I figured the next few might be slower. As it turned out, the next 3 loops all took me 44 minutes and change, leaving me with a time of 2:56. I was very happy to have broken 3 hours, and my left arm held up through the whole thing with no problems. My only regret is that I didn't strategize and get into a good drafting group. There was a big group that finished just a few minutes ahead of me, but I let them get away from me in the first loop. Considering the time difference wasn't that great, I should've been able to hang with them. As it was, I swam almost the whole thing by myself. Next time I will strategize better!

Overall, my time was 2:56: 35, good enough for 15th overall in the women's field - at the National Championships! I'm happy with that, my first time at the distance. I will definitely do this again, it was much more fun than I anticipated, and strangely easier than I had imagined it would be. It was great fun camping out by the lake with our group, and you can't beat the scenery and camaraderie of this event. Highly recommended (if you don't mind swimming a long long ways without a wetsuit, that is).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Proudest Ironmom

When my kids were younger, I was sure that as they turned into teenagers I would have so much time. I would be able to fit in my long workouts easily, my kids would essentially be self-contained little mini-adults. Instead, this weekend I found myself on a forest trail pinning togas on Greek guards, and fitting swords into scabbards. You see, I'm currently employed as the costume designer and props manager for my son's movie shoot. He's filming a live action trailer for a role playing game that he just wrote and published.

His game is based on Greek mythology, and he put a lot of thought into what he didn't like about current role playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, et. al) and decided to fix them by creating his own. Here's a photo of him with his book, Path of the Oracle. If you're interested, it's available in paperback on  and also in Amazon Kindle formats.

I think what impressed me the most is that at the age of 15, he took this project from a thought ("What if role playing games were more like this....") to creating a solution, to building the game, getting play testers to use it, writing it into a game manual in book format, and then now developing a marketing plan that includes his live action trailer (hence the Greek costumes) and setting up meetings with retailers to carry his book (so far he has it in two locations in the first few days in print).

After writing the script for the trailer, he met with a fellow local moviemaker who helped him sign on cast and crew to shoot it. Most of the cast came from Craigslist or were friends of friends. They all stepped up to the plate and did a wonderful job in character. My hubby even makes a cameo appearance as a Greek guard. Without any prior directorial experience, Mackenzie choreographed fight scenes and gave the actors direction to create the scenes he wanted. Don't worry, I'll be linking to the finished product as soon as he finishes filming the scenes with Zeus and it goes through editing and sound production (all things he's also learning how to do on the fly).

As for me, sometimes my workouts just have to wait. Whether I'm helping out by shooting the photo for the book cover, formatting the PDF files for printing, scrounging the local thrift stores for footwear ala 150 B.C., or creating shields by painting our old snow saucers bronze, I've found that this Ironmom is busier than ever. Lucky my Ironman is done for the year!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why My Online Friends Make Me See Green

With the advent of the internet, news is no longer just news. Whereas before I might've read about the drought in our country, now I have online friends who are worrying about their cattle, or talking about how their vegetable gardens are withering or their lawns are dead brown. The internet puts a face on news and makes it real to me, even if I will never meet some of these friends in person. Although as a side note, I'll have to say that every single time I've met someone in person whose company I treasure online, they have been just as wonderful, if not more so, in person.

So yesterday when I got to do a short trail run with my dog, I saw the greenery around me with new eyes. I don't take it for granted, because I know so many of my friends would be happy to see it right about now. And when it rained last night and I had to rush out and pull all of my laundry off the line, I didn't mutter ungrateful phrases under my breath, not even a little bit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What It's All About (not the Hokey Pokey)

The Ironman is behind me now (or should I say for now). All of the build-up, the 52 Weeks To Ironman posts, the training and nutrition and gear and stress all came down to one pinpoint day. Then poof, it's gone. I enjoyed a lot of it, and some of it I didn't. The only real regret that I have is that I allowed myself to become disappointed in me. Because of what?? Because I didn't do as well as I thought I should? Because fate got in the way (again)? Because I didn't make some arbitrary timeline in my brain?

Writing the last part of my race report yesterday brought all of the feelings I experienced in the race back to me, both the joyful bits and the horrible bits. Today I was left feeling wrung out.

Then a very cool thing happened: I went to see my doctor. Nothing special, just time for the yearly physical. My doc is great, he took almost and hour with me, went over every bit of my health from bloodwork to the year's history to a physical exam. And you know what he had to say? I'm in perfect health. Perfect. My heart rate, blood pressure, liver, kidneys, lungs, cholesterol, skin, red blood cells, brain, all of it. It's all good. Yes, I've still got the thyroid condition, which will never go away since I only have half of a thyroid gland. But other than that, no worries.

And that folks, that's what it's really all about. The Ironman finish line is a place in time. A moment that flashes by. But your good health, that's with you your whole life. It sets you up for being able to climb mountains or swim between the islands of Greece in your retirement instead of sitting in an easy chair popping pills and wheezing when you have to stand up. It affects every moment of every day when you feel vital and young, whizzing with energy and so very alive. Now I can't control everything that will happen to me in the future, but I know that these 52 weeks leading up to the Ironman have been a time when I did good things for my body. I exercised (a lot!), I ate well - fruits, veggies, good meats and nuts and seeds. I slept 8 hours a night. I stretched and relaxed when I needed to.

All of that got me across the Ironman finish line, yes. But more than that, it gave me a moment where my doctor said "Well, there's nothing more I really need to talk with you about. You're in great health." That's what it's all about.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RACE REPORT: Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Part 4 - The Run

I'm sure this is probably the most drawn-out race report in the history of time, but hey, it's summer. You know, that time of peaceful relaxation, long afternoons on the hammock with a novel and a glass of iced tea.... ha ha ha...not in my family!  In reality, I was at the National Open Water Swim Championships this week, swimming my first ever competitive 10k, but I'll have to write that up some other time.

I guess I should finish up my Ironman Race Report, but to be honest, I don't have much desire to write up my running experience. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. It didn't start out too bad though.  I had a good transition: just over 3 minutes, and that included making sure the sunscreeners really coated me up good. I decided to wear my Zoot IceFil arm coolers, which was a great idea given that the day was heating up. Yes, I wore arm warmers in the morning and arm coolers in the afternoon - such is the mercurial temperatures at IMCdA. I also decided to wear my Nike Free shoes, putting my Vibram Five Fingers in my special needs bag in case running in the shoes was bugging my feet too much.

Out of transition, I ran up through town with all the cheering people. Even though it was uphill, it went by fast. I got to see my family and get some encouragement there, and then headed down through the part of the course that winds through the pretty neighborhoods along the lake. This is nice and shady, and people have lawn sprinklers and hoses out so it's easy to stay cool.

Originally I'd aimed to hold a 10:30 pace on the run course, but given the way I'd been feeling so far, I bumped that up to 11:00 per mile. For the first six miles, the plan was to add another :30 per mile and just take it easy. That worked out fine, and left me able to walk through all of the aid stations and make sure I dumped cold water on my arm coolers, got some nutrition in, and then grabbed a cup of ice on the way out and held the biggest pieces in the palms of my hands to help with cooling. This worked really well and my temperature stayed cool even as the day got hotter. The run course is really, really, really beautiful and it's easy to distract yourself with the lovely views of the lake. I can't recommend this course enough!

After six miles you encounter the big hill on the run course. On the bike it doesn't seem like much but it looks a whole lot bigger when you're running! This is a new addition to the IMCdA course from '11 on, and it makes the run course more challenging. Coming back down the hill, my bum knee was giving me some fits, but thankfully it didn't feel bad on the flats. Now it was time to dial the pace back to 11:00 per mile, and it seemed to go okay for a few miles but then my stomach started feeling worse and worse and worse. The mild nausea that I had been experiencing all day was worsened by the running, the fatigue, and probably the warmer temperatures and somewhere around mile 12 it bubbled over and I started throwing up.

Shit! This is not how I wanted to spend my IM marathon! I also remembered my time in the med tent after IMFL and had no desire to see a repeat performance of that extreme dehydration. So here I was leaning over a porta-potty toilet, somewhere right before heading back through downtown and I'll have to say this was my "dark night of the soul" moment. I didn't even want to see my family, I felt so bad. I skipped the next aid station, knowing whatever I put down was going to come back up and I didn't want to throw up in front of all of the people downtown or especially in front of my kids and hubby.

I did decide to stop for my special needs bag and get out my IceFil t-shirt. I changed my singlet out for the t-shirt, knowing it would help keep my core temperature even lower and that might help with the nausea. I didn't need to switch out my socks or shoes, everything else was fine. I took the chewable ginger out of the bag as well and started eating that to help my stomach out. I was also having some chafing down in the...erm...neither regions, due I think to pouring water over my head at the aid stations and having it drip down my back. I did have some Glide in my special needs bag, but I hadn't counted on the Special Needs station being right in front of the crowds! How the heck do you put Glide down your butt crack in front of hundreds of people? Ah, such are the questions you are forced to answer at an Ironman. At least I didn't throw up on anyone.

To make matters even better, as I was debating the Glide/posterior problem, hubby runs up and starts snapping pics with the camera. Now that's a moment I did not need memorialized for posterity! He asked how I was doing and I told him my stomach and my knee were for shit. I'm sure he probably guessed from the look on my face as I tried to put on a brave smile that I was pretty much in trouble. But what's there to do at that point? Keep on running. I saw my kids, and then my step-sons and daughters-in-law cheering wildly. It's amazing how important that becomes when you're facing the dark moments. They brought a smile to my face, and I kept on picking up the feet and putting them down. Coming that close to the finish line and then turning around and running back out of town was so very hard to do. But what's the alternative? Quit in front of your family and friends? Or dig deeper? I dug.

Just out of town I hit up the next aid station and decided I better get some fluids since I skipped the last one. I was hopeful since it had now been almost 3 miles since I threw up. Maybe things would be okay. I poured water on my IceFil shirt and arm coolers, got my ice in hand, and started running. So far so good..... but nope. Half a mile later I'm barfing again. The next couple of miles were basically trying to run, throwing up, walking, trying to run, throwing up, walking. This sucked!

Eventually I figured out that I only threw up once my heart rate started picking up, so I developed a strategy of starting to walk a minute before I got to the aid stations to lower my heart rate. Then drinking some Perform or some chicken broth, and then walking for another minute out of the aid station to keep everything down. At that point I could run to the next aid station and everything stayed down. It slowed my pace down to about 12:45, but I could keep going and at least I wasn't walking the whole thing. At that pace, I figured I could come in just under 13:30. Not what I hoped for, but in my mind it was in the realm of not too awful either.

So that was the whip I used to keep myself going for the last 10 or so miles - I knew if I stayed under 13:00 miles, I could beat 13:30. I know that's pretty arbitrary, but at that point you have to go with whatever works to keep you going. I'm not going to kid you, those miles were hell. I was just teetering on the brink of barfing the whole time and I absolutely stinking hate throwing up. I was just not a happy camper. I hated watching people pass me. I hated knowing that even though I ran my last IM marathon with a dislocated toe for pete's sake, this one was going to be slower. Waaayyyyy slower.

I will admit here I got pretty down on myself. I forgot my personal mantra: that it's a gift to be out there doing this. Not many people can even do this, so why was I busy comparing myself with my own arbitrary goals and with what other people were doing? I let myself get in a bad head space, and couldn't seem to pull it out. This is pretty unusual for me, but there it was.

The final insult was that I had spent all this time calculating out my paces so that I could beat 13:30, but as I passed the 26 mile marker, a volunteer told me "The finish line is only 10 blocks that way!" Ten blocks? I only had a few minutes to make it, and no way is 10 blocks equal to .2 miles. So I didn't even make my own stupid completely arbitrary goal of 13:30. I finished in 13:30:59 instead. I don't know why I let this create a black cloud over my head, but I did. I should've been busy enjoying my accomplishment, but I didn't give it the appreciation that it deserved. Only as I neared the finish line, came through downtown with all of the cheering crowds and all of the excitement, and as I saw my family again that it dawned on me - I was going to actually finish my second Ironman. Suddenly the black clouds were gone and I was just so happy to be done.

Unfortunately, it was a second Medical Tent experience for me. I wish I'd waited to get my photo taken until I emerged from the Med Tent because honestly, I won't even post my photo here - I look positively green, and my expression can best be described as "take the damn picture already before I throw up!" I was in the tent for about an hour and a half until I could get my stomach back under control. Wayne took the kids back to the hotel room so they didn't have to wait around for me.

So my biggest goals for my next Ironman are: 
1) Arrive at start line healthy
2) Stay healthy through the race
3) Don't end up in the Med Tent!

I haven't had good luck with the Ironman. IM #1 (Canada) was a DNS due hospitalization for ulcers and severe anemia, IM #2 (Florida) was an in-race injury with my toe dislocated in the swim, IM #3 (Coeur d'Alene) was food poisoning the week of the race. Surely the fourth time will be a charm? I feel like I have unfinished business with the Ironman.I have raced well at other distances, but never at IM. I want a race where I feel like I live up to my own potential, whatever that may be.

BUT... but, but, but, but.... I am a finisher. I didn't give up. I didn't give in. And really, my time isn't even that bad, even though much slower than my last. More than anything, I will remind myself that I Am An Ironman. I have earned it, and I will enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

RACE REPORT: Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Part 3 - The Bike

Yeah, this race report is slow in coming together. Just been too busy since we've gotten home to sit down at the computer! But here's the bike portion...


There is no feeling on earth like riding through downtown Coeur d'Alene, streets lined with screaming people, cowbells clanging and horns blowing. You feel like you're doing something totally epic (which, of course, you are), and the energy is mind-blowing. Then a few turns later, you're out on this beautiful road by the lake, and you can't help but feeling euphoric at this point. I especially loved the bagpipes at the top of the hill on the first part of the course, harkening back to my Scottish roots and raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Then you're at the turn-around and ready to zoom back into town and through the crazy mob again. Overall I felt okay through here, but for some strange reason my heart rate was really elevated - 30 beats higher than it should've been for this level of effort, according to my race rehearsals.

I knew Wayne and the kids would be on the overpass leading to highway 95, but just as I was blasting up the on-ramp, I dropped my chain, luckily managing to miss getting hit by the people behind me as I came to an abrupt stop. Then I saw my lovely cheerleading daughter screaming her lungs out and my hubby smiling, and their energy sent me out onto the harder part of the course. At this point, the adrenaline of the swim had worn off, and my heart rate was still really high. I had no idea what was going on with my body. My brain panicked and remembered my swim from Friday where I had to sleep for several hours afterwards. I was worried that my body was just not recovered enough from the food poisoning to hold out for this race.

Somewhere before mile 20, I broke out in a total body sweat, even though it was still really cold outside. Now I don't sweat much in the best of circumstances - a mild sheen is all you'll see on me on the hottest days of the summer. But sweat was pouring out of me, like I had just eaten a bowl of tabasco sauce or something. Then abruptly, it was over, replaced by a crushing fatigue that had me about ready to cry. Mind you, this is on a flat part of the course, before you face the hills and the wind.

At this point, I was filled with despair - this was it. I was going to DNF at mile 20 of the bike. All of my training, all the sacrifices from my family, all of the support from everyone, it was all going to end here. I wanted to throw my bike off the side of the road and just lay down and sleep. I was wrung out. But somehow I just kept cycling. Kept turning the pedals over. I didn't even know why I was doing it, I just did. One of my goals for the race was to just stay "in the box", per Endurance Nation's racing strategy: "the box" is what you can control this moment. At this point, that's all I had. I figured I would keep biking easy until I either felt better or simply had to stop. Eventually, I did just start feeling better. The sweat had dried and the fatigue lifted, I began to feel like I might actually make it.

So this is the point in the race where you look up and see the first of the big hills on the bike course. Damn! Psychologically, I was not so ready to face this. But I remembered what I set out to do when I pre-rode the course a month back, when I had mentally prepared myself for this moment. I looked around and found the peaceful green valley off to the side of the road, letting it fill my mind with a feeling of serenity. I vowed to look for it again from the top of the hill, because I knew I'd have a gorgeous view down into the valley from up there. That was it, time to grind upwards!

The nice thing about this course is that the hills really aren't hard. No terrible grades, and at this point in the day no searing heat. It was a pleasant temperature and I just put my head down and headed on up. At the top, I had some anxiety about the descent. As I mentioned in my pre-race write-up, my race wheels felt sketchy and developed a speed wobble when I pre-rode the course. I just took it easy on the downhill and yes, I rode the brakes. Yes, people passed me flying down the hill while I gave up my free speed and braked. But it's my race darnit, and I wanted to feel safe.

Of course, I regretted that the instant the hill ended and the winds began, because I had to work harder into the wind and up the next hill than I should've, but at least I didn't crash and burn and that was something! I did hear later in the race that a couple of people had bit it crashing on the hills, so I think for myself that decision to take it easy was a good one.

The rest of the first lap was a grind into the wind. Wind, hill, wind, hill, wind, hill. The turnaround seemed to be a distant possibility that came all too slowly. My time at the turnaround had me thinking I was in for a 7-hour bike ride. Ugh! I did NOT want that. But I had underestimated how much wind there had been, because once I turned back toward town, we were flying along with a good tailwind. Nice!


I figured that my family would've gone back to the hotel by now - I told them they didn't have to cheer me for the whole bike course. So imagine my surprise when I saw them there at the overpass. As soon as Asa saw me, she started yelling and cheering. I got lots of appreciative comments from riders around me about her enthusiasm. That was a great way to start my second loop.

I was looking forward to going through town and out along the lake again, and it didn't disappoint. Wow, this has to be one of the world's best Ironman courses for the crowds and the views. The bagpipers were still there as well, and I thanked them as I went past. The only moment of frustration in this section was a male cyclist in a bright green jersey who would not let me pass him. I had been coming up on him for awhile, but as soon as I passed him, he didn't even wait to drop back out of the draft zone but immediately re-passed me. Then he zoomed ahead, and after a few minutes he sat up, stretched, got some nutrition, slowed down again, and I had to over-take him again. This scenario repeated itself so many times I was getting mad. Ride your pace dude! I consoled myself with the thought that after his quads blew up, I would pass him on the run (I did). Other than that though, this part of the course was highly enjoyable.

Then all that was left was The Big Grind (or so I nicknamed the 2nd half of the course). This time I knew about the wind (although it had picked up some since the first loop), and was feeling better about my wheels and my ability to ride them on the course. So all that was left was just to go head-down and get 'er done. I had a little scare at the turn-around when I started heading back to town and had a headwind. WTH??? If I was going to have to battle the wind both ways, I would lay down and cry right there! Fortunately it was short-lived on a section that curved in the other direction. As soon as the road curved back, my friend the tail-wind re-appeared and ushered us back toward town.


This was the only sticky spot of the whole bike ride. My stomach was playing not-very-nice, which gave me a little frisson of fear for what was coming on the run. I felt slightly queasy on and off through most of the bike. I was very grateful that I had a solid and well-rehearsed nutrition plan. I had a 6-hour bottle of very concentrated Infinit in my Speedfil on the bike frame. It was like drinking sludge, but Infinit's ability to customize your drink formula let me dial the flavoring way way down, so it didn't taste bad at all. I had water in my Torhans 30 bottle on the front, and made use of the aid stations to grab a bottle and refill on the fly. I'd never done that before, and was happy with how easily it worked. I could grab one early, dump it in, and toss it to the side before leaving the aid station area. Slick! Other than that, I took a Bonk Breaker bar with me for 2 hours into the ride, and one more for 4 hours in. I had other fun stuff to eat like Sport Beans, but with my stomach acting up I decided to stick to a very simple plan and give it very little to have to work on digesting.

So far so good, everything I put in stayed down. I had to pee a few times so I knew my hydration was fine. I decided to stuff my arm-warmers in my back pocket and not stop for my special needs bag. That saved me a few moments of having to get off the bike.


The night before the race, I gave Wayne a piece of paper with my estimated split times - where I would come by his spot on the Hwy 95 overpass. I based this on a pretty conservative estimate, given what I was feeling like this week. I had hoped I could go faster than this, but 'twas not to be. On my sheet, I predicted that I would go past him for the last time at 7:50, and it was actually 7:49 and change. Pretty darned close. One thing I know is that I'm good at estimating what my body can do in any given circumstance. I played the bike pretty darn conservatively, but at this point I figured that was the best thing I could do to set myself up for being able to actually run the marathon. In retrospect, I'm happy with the way my bike went. I think if I'd pushed it harder, I could've looked at a DNF either on the bike, or later on the run. So although I'd like to see a faster split sometime in the future, this is what I could accomplish on this day.

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!

Monday, July 02, 2012

RACE REPORT: Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Part 1

It's hard to write up a race report immediately after an event for me. I have to let my thoughts about it percolate for awhile and allow all of the memories of the week and the day to drift to the surface. Like any difficult endeavor, Ironman demands a lot out of your body and your mind on race day, and I want to make sure I'm faithful to what happened and not to my immediate impressions. Yes, I know this is way too long, but Ironman is more than just race day so I've divided it up into a couple of sections. Today's installment tells the story of my Ironman pre-race week...


Our original plan was to drive to Coeur d'Alene on Monday, allowing for some time to visit my step-sons and their wives and to sight-see with the kids. Also to have a relaxed time in Coeur d'Alene with plenty of days to get everything done.

What Really Happened:

I got food poisoning on Monday. Really really bad food poisoning. I spent about 12 hours throwing up until I was dry-heaving, and the next 24 hours sleeping. I was wrecked! Finally on Wednesday we left for Coeur d'Alene, but packing felt rushed and my stomach felt tender and uncooperative. Thankfully my obsessive need to create checklists for everything saved me, as I literally packed up in a couple of hours, merely checking things off of my lists. If you really want to see my four-page Ironman packing list, here it is.


I had a good taper plan in place, and prior to the food poisoning I felt very refreshed and like my muscles and general fitness were recovering and would be ready to go on race day. So all I needed to do in race week was get some light workouts in and survey the course and transition areas. Also acclimatize myself to the lake and the cold water. I had not run a step in the 4 weeks prior to the race (still re-habbing my knee injury) and planned to keep up the pool running in the hotel and not run until the actual Ironman. Also, so exciting, my online friend Sharon, from TriFuel, was coming into town. I couldn't wait to meet her!!!

What Really Happened:

Most of race week went as I had hoped with a couple of exceptions:

Anxiety Point #1: My stomach still sucked. I needed to be fueling, and all I could manage to eat were mashed potatoes and milk shakes. I ate as many of those as I could. Hotel breakfast was great because they had some good oatmeal. I was worried though - how would my stomach fair under the incredible stress of race day if it couldn't digest normal food now? For those of you who have never done an Ironman, one of the things that makes it vastly different from other races like marathons or half-Ironmans is that nutrition becomes one of the make-or-break items of the day. Somewhere after 5 or 6 hours of racing, your stomach gets really grouchy and it can turn on you in an instant. Managing your food and fluid intake become critical, because nobody can do an 11, 12, 13, 17 hour race on sub-par nutrition or a recalcitrant stomach.

Anxiety Point #2: When I did my bike recon of The Big Hill, I wasn't too concerned with the uphill portion, I just wanted to try out my race wheels on the big downhill. What happened next frankly terrified me. As I reached 30 mph, I developed a speed wobble on the front wheel that threatened to turn into a death wobble. I braked to a stop. Started up again, same thing happened. Oh no. What would I do on race day? I couldn't keep pulling to the side of the road! I took my bike into the Athlete's Village bike shop and they assured me there was nothing wrong with either of my race wheels. I was hoping it was just the proximity of the cars and trucks whooshing by on the highway and the gusty winds that made the disc and the aero wheel so skittish. They wouldn't be there on race day, so I would be fine. Right?

Thursday dawned, and it was time to sign in for the race. Later, the kids and Wayne and I took a walk by the lakeshore. I couldn't convince either of the kids that the water was warm enough to swim in. Go figure!

This was also the day Sharon would arrive from Texas. Meeting her was AWESOME and we hit it off immediately. On Friday morning we went down to the race start and got in the water. BRRRR! Much colder than I thought it would be. People with thermometers said 53, and I'd guess that wasn't too far off. Ice-cream headache cold. But the good news was that we swam for 15 minutes, then headed over to the race start area where a large group of triathletes was doing a simulated beach start. I positioned myself right in the front and center, this was my chance to practice my race day strategy. At the signal, we all charged into the water and started swimming. People swarmed around me, but within 400 yards I was out in front of all of them and rounded the first buoy on my own. My strategy worked! Granted, there would be more faster swimmers in the race, but this gave me a lot of confidence going into it. Also, the water didn't seem so bad after warming up and getting out - another confidence booster.

Then came a big confidence shaker: after getting back to my hotel room I felt weak, shaky, and tired. I lay down for a bit and SLEPT FOR 2 1/2 HOURS! Uh oh. My body is nowhere near recovered from everything the food poisoning took out of it. If a half-hour swim does this to me, will I survive the Ironman?

Then Sharon and I biked on the first part of the course. She couldn't stop herself from saying "Wow, this is SO BEAUTIFUL" like a thousand times. Since it basically looks like the scenery here in Oregon, I had honestly forgotten how very beautiful it is. Seeing it through her eyes opened mine up to the beauty as well. Yes, it is one of the most beautiful races in the world, and I was loving it. With the sections through town with all of their crowds, and then these miles of natural wonder, this would be an amazing race.

Friday Night I got to meet up with all of the Endurance Nation teammates who were doing the race, and that was a blast. What an interesting, and knowledgeable group! I couldn't wait to see them on the course. From there, we walked to the athlete meeting, which was in a big tent. All of a sudden the skies opened up in a gigantic gully-washer thunderstorm. The tent literally had a river of water running under our feet. It was amazing. My kids called me to hurry back to the hotel room so we could watch all of the lightning strikes from our room. The rain sheeting down was stupendous, and the forks of lightning striking all around us were awe-inspiring. I simply hoped that the forecasted thunderstorms for race day didn't show up, because as cool as this all was, I did NOT want to be racing in it.

On Saturday, my kids went to Spokane. Asa went to Kristen (my daughter-in-law)'s baby shower (yes, this Ironmom is going to be an Iron Grandma) with the other women from our family. Mackenzie and Wayne went golfing with my step-sons Rick and Rob. After dropping off all of the gear bags and bikes and stuff, Sharon and I just hung out and had fun. We did some pool running and hot-tub sitting. We ate at this amazing pub-distillery called Bardenay. Seriously, if you to go Coeur d'Alene, EAT HERE. Once we discovered this place we never ate anywhere else! We took a little walk or two around the small lake.

At night, Wayne and the kids came back with Rick, Rob, Alicia, and Kristen and we ate a late dinner at Bardenay (again!). Wow, it was so awesome to be surrounded by my family and just having a great time on the night before Ironman. We stayed out a little too late, but honestly it was worth it. I wanted to enjoy this whole experience, and have a great time on race day. I crawled into bed at 10:30 or so, thinking I wouldn't sleep much but... I did! Other than the "what will happen if...." nerves, I felt pretty calm about this race. I knew what was in my control, and what was not. I promised myself not to stress about the stuff that was not, and just keep myself in a place of controlling what I could, and letting the rest be in God's hands.

Next up: Race Day!