On Sunday, I completed the Ironman at Coeur D’Alene.
That’s enough, you know. It’s a dadgum Ironman. Isn’t it enough to say that I finished the dadgum thing?…but, apparently, that is not the case, as I’ve actually had folks asking for a race report. So here it is.
SETUP – This race was different from any other triathlon that I’ve competed in, in that *you did not set up a transition area*.
Instead, you put your bike on the rack, and then you packed two bags – Bike Gear and Run Gear – which were placed in long rows outside of a Changing Tent. The idea is that you came out of the water, and someone would hand you the Bike Gear bag, and you would go into the tent, sit down *on a chair* and change into your bike stuff. Then you’d run out and grab the bike and head out onto the course.
Similarly, when you dismount off the bike, a volunteer would take it from you and go rack it for you, another volunteer would hand you the Run Gear bag, and you’d do the same thing in the Changing Tent.
It took longer, but it was much more organized, and I found myself less likely to forget things.
In addition – one packed two other bags; Bike Special Needs and Run Special Needs. These were bags that contained items that you would want to have approximately 2/3 of the way through each course. This leads me to the topic of:
NUTRITION – I went fat-adapted in February, and have trained all year without carbohydrates. I’ve done many century rides on just Skippy Crunchy Peanut Butter and Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese, usually in small wraps that Ethel made using a low-carb tortilla. That’s what I had in my bags – Run and Bike gear, and both special needs, each had one peanut butter wrap, and one cheddar wrap. In addition, the Special Needs bags had sugar-free Monsters.
Anywhere in this race report, insert “I ate a roll-up” or “I drank a Monster” and you won’t be too far off.
RACE MORNING – I ate a fair breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese and link sausage (see “fat-adapted”, above) and coffee. I took two Naproxen because – Ironman. It was gonna hurt. (I also had four Ibuprofen in my Run Special Needs bag, as Naproxen wasn’t going to get me through seventeen hours). Morning was calm enough; after Ethel dropped me off, we got separated and I never saw her again, and didn’t run into Corch either, so it was just me, by myself; I might have gotten more worked up if they had been around.
They called for the swimmers to come down for the start, so I headed for the beach.
THE SWIM –
IM CdA is a “self-seeded rolling start” – basically, they put folks out on the beach with signs (<50, 51-1:00, 1:01-1:15 etc) and you lined up in a position that corresponded to what you thought your swim time would be. I lined up behind the 1:31 sign; I was thinking 1:30, but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to break 1:30, and I’d rather be the pass-er than the pass-ee. There was no pro start; it was all age-groupers, so when the gun went off, the crowd started its slow movement towards the arch.
When I got there, the energy started to build up a little – yelling and high-fives – and then I went into the water with more adrenaline than I would have liked. This resulted in my not feeling comfortable; the water was choppy, the other swimmers seemed to be more aggressive than I was used to, there were swells from the cabin cruisers on the lake, and I was not a happy camper.
Doubts set in quickly – after all, at its root, adrenaline is fear. What was I doing, starting an Ironman race? Who did I think I was? Why was I swimming 2.4 miles in a deep lake? This isn’t fun. I want to go home!
In fact, I was so unhappy that by the time I got to the first yellow buoy, just a couple of hundred yards out into the lake, I went up into a breast stroke for a few seconds and sort of looked around for a support person on a kayak; I actually considered quitting the race. I still remember looking at that yellow buoy with the big “#1” on the side and thinking “This is as far as it goes”.
However, the moment passed as I kept swimming. The water was still choppy with swells, and I kept getting hit in the head and kicked, but I just kept swimming.
During that first lap, I reverted to a prayer that I had used many times during those 100+ mile rides, and the one 20 mile run-walk that I had done in the Cozumel heat –
“Lord, if you want me to do this, please give me the strength and the courage.
If you don’t want me to do this, then please grant me the acceptance.”
I finished the first lap in 47:29, and figured that I wasn’t going to make 1:30, but after I started the second loop, a simple – yet powerful – thought came – THE SWIM DOESN’T MATTER. Not that it didn’t have to be done, and I didn’t start taking it easy, but the comfortable assurance kept coming back – THE SWIM DOESN’T MATTER. (I had a funny feeling that Corch wouldn’t want to hear that, but I stuck with it).
It was quite simple, really – given my bad leg, and having to walk the marathon, I had no idea how fast the run would go, but based on experimentation and arithmetic, it seemed to me that I might wind up with a marathon time anywhere from 6:30 to 9:00 – which is a 2.5 hour margin of error. The swim *cut-off* was 2:10, so the margin of error for the marathon was bigger than any possible swim time I might end up with.
So I just kept swimming. The second loop was much more pleasant; the crowd had spread out some, and even though the chop and swells were still there, it was easier to handle when I wasn’t bumping up against folks. And heck – anytime you’ve been doing something for that long, you get used to it.
I came out of the water fat and happy at 1:36, which was not want I wanted, but if you had told me when I started this triathlon silliness that I would someday swim 2.4 miles of open water in waves and crowds in 1:36, I’d’a called you a lyin’ cheezewhacker.
T-1 – I got my Bike Gear bag and went into the tent. This sort of transition was much too…relaxed, and it shows up in my transition time of 12 minutes(!). But this was my first IM, and I didn’t want to make any mistakes, so I took my time. I came out of the tent and went to my bike and started moving towards the mount point; since I couldn’t run AT ALL, I had to walk slowly in my bike shoes. This enforces patience – especially since everybody else was going fast.
As I came out of the tent, I finally saw Ethel, and the universe righted itself.
THE BIKE – I climbed aboard my Noble Steed and tried to hit the Edges bike computer Start and the transition button on my Garmin 920XT at the same time – it didn’t work. But I didn’t care – I was on my bike, and that is for me these days like a second home. I just started passing people.
One side effect of being a slow swimmer is that one comes out of the water with slower athletes – but I’m fair-to-middlin’ on the bike, which means that I spend almost all of most of my bike time passing folks. And that was the case in this race, as well, for a long time.
The IM CdA bike course is two loops, of two legs – first one goes through town out to the lakeside road east of town, then double back on that, back through town, then out Highway 95 on the west side for the much longer – and much MUCH hillier – west loop, then repeat.
I just passed folks on the east loop, kept my place coming back through town (and saw Ethel again, which is always a goodness) and then hit the mountains on the west side.
There was a headwind – not bad, but definite – but, well, we all had the same headwind, so I just kept riding. I was supposed to keep my Normalized Power number at 150 watts, but – heck, I’m not running, right? – and it got as high as 180 during the first loop. There are about 2600 feet of climbing for each loop, and it’s more uphill on the way out – into the wind – than back towards the lack.
I eventually settled in with the same crowd of folks, playing leap-frog with several of them, and that took us back into town.
Hit downtown and saw Ethel again (yay!) and then went out and did the east loop, still staying with the same group of folks, still playing leap-frog with them.
When I came through town to head back to the west side, I decided that I was done playing patty-fingers – no more Mr Nice Guy! So I started dropping folks.
When I hit the mountains, the wind had picked WAY up – some folks said that the official wind speed was 25 MPH. It was blowing people off of their bikes – I heard that it blew over one of the aid station tents. But one nice thing about being a fat guy is that I have a high cross-sectional density, so the wind couldn’t blow me over; I kept passing people all the way out to the turnaround.
Then, with the tailwind, Church Was Out. I reeled folks in all the way back to town.
This was the most fun part of perhaps any tri I’ve done – the bike at CdA – even though other folks are still cussing the heat and the wind. I think that it reminded me of Marine Corp Marathon, back in Ought and Ninety-Three, when I ran negative splits and qualified for Boston; during the last few miles of that race, it was like I was running through statues; I kept getting faster and faster, and it felt like manna was coming in through my crown chakra and coming out my fingers and toes.
During the downhills, I learned a new prayer – “God, please remove my fear, and grant me prudence”. In a five-mile long downhill, you can get up some serious speed, and you can do some serious damage.
In this race, I was not getting faster – the conditions were seeing to that – but everybody else was getting slower and more tired. I had trained in heat and wind on Cozumel, and I had done a LOT of 100+ mile rides, so I was in my element.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have another ride like that – but one was enough.
I got back to town and dismounted. Came off the bike right at 9 hours – my “best possible” plan was 8 hours, but my “best possible” plan didn’t include 25 mph head winds, so I was cool with that.
They took my bike from me and sent me to the Changing Tent with my Run Gear bag; again, I took way too long, but I wanted to make sure that I did it right. I was about to do something I’d never done before – walk 26.2 miles – and I wanted to leave as little as possible to chance.
As I was heading out of transition, a tall fellow came up next to me, stuck out his hand, and said “Congratulations. You are the only person who passed me on the bike.”
And we’re off. I’m walking at 4 MPH while folks around me are running. I’d better get used to that – it’s gonna be a long day (and night).
I’d injured my calf, and every time that I had tried to run, it went into spasm – and when it did that, I was then unable to walk very well. So I had had to make up my mind to walk every step of the consarned thing, until the end – if I could, I would run to the finish line. But I wouldn’t get there unless I walked all the way.
Okay, if I’m going to do this, then I’m going to have to find a way to motivate it. And the best way that I know to get help is to give it. So I started right off playing the clown – mugging to the crowd, singing with the music, talking to my fellow competitors and joking and encouraging as much as possible. Heck, why not? Walking at 4 MPH was not about to tax my aerobic engine – My heart rate hung right around the 100 BPM mark after the first few minutes of settling down. So why not make a party out of it?…as long as I can do so at 4 MPH.
So that was the plan.
The “run” consisted of three loops – from town out along the east bike loop, then back to the park; the same loop again, from the park and back to the park, and the same loop again, except the third one ended up at the finish line, down near the beach. I walked at a steady pace, often with Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” in my head (but with the lyrics slightly confused) – and sometimes, I’d go ahead and sing ’em:
“He walked with a purpose, straight ahead, in his sneakers
And asked many questions like children often do
He said, “Tell me all your thoughts on God
And tell me, am I very far?”
Quite often, somebody would say to me “Hey, you are walking with a purpose!” and I would say “Straight ahead, in my sneakers” – and they’d look funny and head on past me.
With three out-and-back loops, I would see the other competitors face-on twice each loop, and I would see the spectators twice each loop, as well – doing something like this, after a while, you start to form relationships. They got to know who I was, and vice-versa.
I drank a small amount at every aid station – including tiny cups of Red Bull – and took a Succeed electrolyte pill about once an hour. The big winds on the west side were not affecting the east, and during the first loop, a forest fire started up in the west – which, while not a good thing, did blank out the sun, so there was no real heat issue during the hottest part of the day.
I walked, and smiled and laughed and sang and joked and encouraged, for the first two loops. It was fun. It wasn’t COMFORTABLE, but it didn’t hurt. At those times when it started feeling difficult, I reverted to the “strength and courage” prayer, and then I would be okay again.
When I made the turn at the park for the last loop, a volunteer handed me a Glow-Stick, because it was getting dark. I carried the Glow-Stick from that point on; when darkness hit, it helped the folks running towards me to not run into me; it was DARK. And that last loop was lonely and quiet. At the start, I realized that – unless my calf cramped up – I had the cutoffs soundly beaten, and that I could slow down.
But I couldn’t. My legs were locked into 4 MPH; my MIND was locked into 4 MPH. It didn’t matter what was necessary; the discipline had become its own purpose, like a living thing.
I walked, with a purpose, straight ahead, in my sneakers. I used the “strength and courage” prayer a lot. When I saw a Glow-Stick coming, I waved my Glow-Stick at ’em and said something snappy. And I kept going. 4 MPH.
When I came back through the park at the end, it was almost empty, until I got near the town-side – and then the streets were lined with people. Cheering people. Screaming, clapping people. I wondered, for the umpteenth time that day – how can people CLAP for that long? How can they cheer for that long? And for people whom they didn’t know, and would never see again?
I walked faster up the hill out of the park towards Sherman Street, and when I turned onto the street, I had to start running. That had been the plan all along – run to the finish. And the people SCREAMED! and jumped and applauded!
And then I heard the call – “James Puckett, of Bozeman, Montana – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
(I had had a comeback for that statement, planned long before in my mind, but in all of the emotion, I forgot it – and it wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody would have heard me anyway🙂
Ate food, hugged Ethel and Corch, got a massage – and felt higher than a kite. I had woke up at 2:40 that morning; I didn’t get into bed until 1:01 that night. I haven’t felt right since – my lower body is swollen to the point that I’ve been carrying an extra ten pounds all week. I haven’t worked out at all; I’ve been groggy and felt poorly the whole time.
And I’m very grateful that I was able to finish.
Don’t ask me if I’m doing another one. I simply won’t answer. I have no idea, right now, what I’m going to do next week – never mind next year.
But I did that one.