I returned to racing the full Ironman distance this past weekend. The last full I had raced was Ironman Arizona in 2014, so it was almost a three year break. In that time I moved across the country, completed my masters degree and broke my ankle (among other things).
In the training, it felt good to be using my body again. I added more strength and yoga classes on top of the normal swim/bike/run. While it was a heavy load, my body felt strong and my fitness was coming along nicely, especially considering I was starting from zero again. Before I knew it, it was time to head to Coeur d’Alene.
I was more nervous for this Ironman than I had been for any others. I felt a lot of pressure (from myself) to put together a solid race. I was also anxious for the actual race itself, it’s a long day and I was worried about the mental side of pushing myself through that pain. My last set of Ironman’s were all strung together after each other which provided a great build and ability to continuously improve. I tell you what, it’s intimidating to start again.
Race morning was nice and quiet. Nervous energy, but with a smaller field it felt much more intimate. Less fighting for everything from parking spots to port-o-potties. Before I knew it, I had set my bikes, emptied by system, eaten all my snax and it was time to get the wetsuit on and head to the beach. While I was anxious, I was also calm and ready to tackle the day.
On the way walking towards the beach, there was a woman on the side talking to someone standing next to her. She was wiping a tear from her eye and I heard her say to her friend “they’re all like that, they all have a story” and she looked me dead in the eye. It gave me chills and was one of the many times I came close to losing control of my emotions and crying. I gave her a thankful smile, pulled myself back together and kept heading towards the beach. The entire day I was so thankful and grateful that I was able to head to the starting line to participate. I kept thinking: Today is a good day, for a good day.
Once the rolling start got rolling and I entered the water, I started controlled and smooth. After all, it’s a very long day and pacing is the key to survival. It’s a beautiful lake and watching the sun rise over the trees while swimming was just magical. It’s a clear lake and while there was a bit of chop, I remained smooth. That’s not to say there wasn’t bumps along the way, I hit a wall of dudes and had some guy try to run me over multiple times (I legit stopped and pushed him out of the way, lolz) but overall it was just an awesome swim. It ended up being a PR! I made some changes to my swim this cycle, for the first time I just wasn’t motivated in the water and didn’t actually start swimming until April. Through this training cycle I did nothing but longer sets, 500’s were regular and I had some very long Wednesday mornings with 1000’s/500’s. It made a huge difference even mentally in the water as I didn’t get bored or impatient during the race, I was able to get into the zone and execute. For the first time during an Ironman, before I knew it, I was out of the water smiling and heading towards my bike.
I’ve been intimidated by this bike course since I signed up. I knew it was never a reality living in Texas, but now living in Oregon, we spent a lot of time trying to climb and get elevation on our rides to be comfortable. As my training progressed my climbing and speeds improved and while I was nervous, I didn’t think it was impossible. The bike course is two loops, with two different out and backs. So many opportunities to see my Coeur Sports teammates and other friends on the course! I loved it! When I came back through town a few times, I felt like a total rockstar. So many cheers and cowbell.
Nothing about the course was particularly steep, it was more of a slow, long burn. Immediately my cadence sensor didn’t work, I had a good laugh but enough confidence to know where my legs needed to spin. The first loop I felt good and that I was holding myself back still a bit, the second, the sun came out, the wind shifted and I was feeling the elevation in my legs. I think I also had some hydration neglect – while I did have to pee several times, I think I ended up just not drinking enough (which I would pay for later). I had enough calories, but not enough fluids. Overall the bike course is challenging but beautiful! Also, no one talks about that darn hill at 50 and 100 on the way back – ouch! Come to find out I came within 10 seconds of my bike course PR, which is pretty awesome starting from zero this time, but even more proud that it was on an exponentially harder course. I’ve become a stronger athlete that I have been giving myself credit for.
When I hopped off the bike I knew that my legs were a bit more trashed than I had hoped. I don’t think I over biked pace wise – I think honestly it was just more climbing than I was prepared for and it was hard to get myself mentally to push through that fatigue in my legs. I started out strong but I also tried to slow myself down a bit because it felt too fast and my hr too high. It’s a long run and blowing up early didn’t sound like fun. I also had some issues getting comfortable on my bike and on the run I realized that my right hip was out and that was probably to blame. About every 3-4 steps I would step and get radiating pain down my left hip and glute area. This is where the hydration also came back to bite me, I was desperately thirsty but my stomach had no desire to drain. I tried water and gatorade for a few aid stations, knowing I would need more electrolytes. Once that wasn’t doing the trick I switched to soda, oh the magic of soda. Within a few aid stations I was feeling a bit better, but really unable to push myself for more than a run/walk combo.
The run is 3 loops of basically an out and back. At the turnaround point it was a total inferno along the lake. I tried sitting in the sauna leading up to the race, but it just wasn’t enough to be able to handle it well. For the first time ever I was sad I didn’t have the training of the Texas heat under my belt. I was doing everything I could think of, cold water and ice everywhere, carrying ice water to splash on my face and I just couldn’t fight it. On that run course I lost the ability to push like I was hoping to which just left me frustrated and disappointed.
For about a loop and a half I met two women out on the course – Heather and Andrea. Their husbands and family members were all racing – what a cool family affair! (I met both husbands on the course during the loops.) They were run/walking and they let me join them for a while. We chatted while (speed) walking and talked each other into running to certain spots ahead like signs, cars and aid stations. They were my saviors on that run course and I will be eternally grateful for them. Even though they help me stay positive, it was hard when I would go back inside my head, I kept beating myself up for being unable to push harder and run more, I felt defeated. I kept going back to thinking, I know I’m better than this, but right now, I just can’t anymore.
Once I got within about 2 miles, I tried to pick it up a bit to get home and get the run done with. I was treated to the most beautiful sunset as I was heading in. When I got closer to the area of the turn off to the finish, emotion came over me again and I thought back to the beginning. It’s true, we’ve all got stories and battles and obstacles we’ve overcome to get to the start line, much less the finish. I’d had a rough few years and fought my way back to gaining fitness and gaining my confidence back. Even though I was mostly disappointed in myself for that run, I was proud that I was able to cross the finish line. Any day you get to cross an Ironman finish line, regardless of whether you are the first or last finisher, is a pretty darn good day.
Ironman Coeur d’Alene was great reminder that yes, I can do this distance. That yes, at some point it becomes less fun, but that I have work to do when I get to that place. The best thing that I got out of it? That I was happy to be racing again. That I want to continue to do this and that even though people think I’m crazy, I love pushing and achieving and working hard to continuously improve myself. That even though I got a bit negative and disappointed in myself, I never gave up and I kept pushing forward, even if it meant walking instead of running. The fire and fight is still in there.
A few new things this time around that really helped make my day. I never thought I would be a speed suit onesie kind of girl, but once I put on the Coeur Sports one, I was sold. I’ve got body issues like everyone else, but not once did I feel self-conscious or think about what I was wearing. It fit perfectly and comfortably and now I don’t think I’ll race in anything else. I was much cooler with those sleeves and the sun not beating on my back and stayed as cool as possible on the run. It was breathable and awesome and just perfect. Not to mention that I always feel like a badass because I look so good! It’s also the first time I looked at finisher pics and immediately felt fit and strong. While yes training has something to do with it, so does feeling good in the clothes that you are in. Coeur takes fit and function and design to a whole new level while being the best triathlon company on the planet. I cannot tell you enough how much their support over the years has meant to me.
I love my Argon 18 bike. Seriously, I got so many compliments in the days leading up and during the race. It’s fast, stiff and feels like a natural extension of my body. Along with that I recently got a set of Enve Composite wheels. Whoa are those things fast and stable. Even with a bit of wind on the course I wasn’t thrown around but I felt like when everything was lined up I was flying through the air. I can’t wait to spend even more time on them and really get comfortable going fast.
Racing with my Coeur Sports team. It was a true joy to keep an eye on the opposite side of the course for all those speedy ladies. They were determined and focused but always cheering back and encouraging the whole day. In the end 3 were able to punch their tickets to Kona and it was absolutely awesome (and inspiring) to watch them crush it. Not to mention, they are about some of the nicest ladies. Breakfast afterwards sharing war stories about the day and getting to know each other better was the perfect way to spend the next morning! (also let’s be glad this is a picture and not video of us all hobbling down to the lake shore!)
What’s next? Well, FOOTBALL SEASON (#goducks), fall and finishing house projects I dropped to the wayside. I’ve already been in the pool once and am looking to getting back in the pool tomorrow. Nothing super structured but enough to keep my body happy and ease some of the fatigue. Even on the way back on Monday after the race, I was fired up. I know I can be better. While Coeur d’Alene will always be a special return to racing kind of race, I look forward to pushing harder both mentally and physically because I really think I can nail this distance. And I’m going to keep on trying. See you in IronmanSanta Rosa, 2018.