Ironman Coeur D’Alene…

In the days leading up to IMCDA I was remarkably calm.  Perhaps because I’d already done two, one of which was while I was injured – if I could finish Wisconsin barely able to walk I could definitely handle whatever Coeur D’Alene had to throw at me. During taper I was bored and restless.  Not anxious, mind you, I just wanted to get there and get it over with.

I arrived in Coeur D’Alene on Thursday afternoon (around noon or so) to check in and get settled.  I never really caught the crazy excitement bug.  That was a surprise.  I figured that once I got there and checked in I’d start to get pumped up.  Nope.  It was really just another long training day ahead of me. That’s where my head was.  I think that was a good thing.  I was a nervous wreck before Florida, my first.  I was really dejected about Wisconsin because of my injury (although when I got to Madison I did get super excited – perhaps because there were such huge DC Tri and Endurance Nation contingents).   So, the days leading up to the race I kept a pretty low profile, heading to the IM Village only when necessary and even then getting in and out quickly.  I was staying with a few people in a house and we were all pretty low key and it was perfect.

Despite not being all anxious or excited, I was super nervous about my bike, mechanically speaking. Since my last tune up (at a shop that will remain nameless but which I will never ever use for maintenance again, ever), it hasn’t been shifting well.  I took it out for a test ride and it was missing gears and making not pretty sounds.  Argh.  Luckily for me one of my housemates, Kurt, is a bike whiz (having built his and his wife’s bikes) and he took a look.  The next training ride it was noticeably better but still not quite perfect… he (and Michele) took another look and made another tweak before I had to turn it in on Saturday.  Hmm… all I could do was hope I’d have all my teeth to get up all the hills.  I was very thankful for a non-technical course where I didn’t have to shift a lot!

The morning before the race I had a short brick on the schedule… I did it no problem; it felt good to be out there moving a bit.  Post brick I plugged in my Garmin to be sure it was fully charged race day.  After I did that I remembered to clear the history to be sure it would have enough room to save my race day activities… I unplugged it, turned it on, cleared the history, then… nothing.  Screen went blank.  Huh?  It was working two seconds ago… fuck.  Fuuuuuuuuck.  I grabbed my iPhone and tried to find the customer service number and kept getting an error message.  Shit.  Breathe.  I did a Google search for how to reboot (I’ve had to do it before).  Found it.  Tried it.  It didn’t work.  Seriously?  IM #1 I forgot my HR strap.  IM #2 my Garmin gets knocked off and ends up at the bottom of the lake in the first 5 minutes of the swim.  IM #3 my Garmin dies the day before the race.  What the hell is it with me, IMs, and Garmin-related clusterfucks?  I did a quick FB post asking for someone to send me the Garmin customer service number or tell me how to do a reboot.  I also texted a friend who I know has a 310XT for help…  The response was quick and overwhelming (thanks everyone).  Customer service is only open M-F.  WTF?  Who races on a weekday when a CSR is really needed?  Argh.  When I rule the world Garmin service will answer the phone on the weekends of IM races!  I tried every possible combination of reboot options.  Dead dead dead.  I texted my brother who was driving in from Portland to see if he or his GF had a Garmin with them that I could use.

I was annoyed, yes.  Definitely, definitely annoyed.  But, I was actually pretty calm about it all.  I don’t time my swims for fear of being put in a bad mood if I don’t see a number I like.  I have a power meter on my bike so I didn’t really need it then (but the alarms would be handy to keep me on my nutrition schedule).  I had it programmed for my run/walk intervals for the marathon.  Those alarms would be nice, but again, not necessary.  My plan was to run for 2 miles then walk for 2 minutes.  I could watch the course signs or go by water stops to gauge my mileage and wear my normal watch for the walk breaks.  I could do this without a computer on my wrist.  Staying calm and in my box.  While waiting for a response from my brother another friend, Michele (who’d be staying in our house that night), let me know she had one I could use.  Cool!

The rest of the day went off without a hitch.  Ate a big lunch.  Dropped off my bike and gear bags.  Went to the grocery to get food for dinner.  Came back and chilled out.  Started dinner around 5 and the house ate around 6 or so.   My brother and Rachel came by to catch up with us which was great (Dan has been to all 3 of my races and Rachel has done 2 herself, including IMWI last year when I raced).  Then they took off and the rest of us watched a movie Kurt and Jan brought, Saint Ralph – I’d never heard of it before but it was great –  a super cute movie about a 14 year old training to race the Boston Marathon (fiction).  I’d highly recommend it!   Bed time.

I think this is a first, I actually slept well the night before the race.  Unbelievable!  With the exception of one bathroom break I was out!  But even the overnight hours weren’t uneventful in our house.  Michele was staying with us but not racing so she went out Saturday night with some of the EN crew… she came home to find the house locked.  Uh-oh… because she is such an awesome person, she slept in her car (after walking back downtown where it was parked) because she didn’t want to wake us to let her in.  OMG.  I got a text at 3:58am asking if I could let her in.  Gasp. I felt so horrible, but so thankful.  I let her in but she couldn’t go to bed, she had to change clothes and go to transition for her volunteer shift… what a rockstar.

It’s 4am and I’m making coffee and reheating the breakfast I’d prepped for myself the night before to save time… everyone is up and getting ready.  I get dressed, get my gear together, and we pile into Kurt and Jan’s rental to head to the race.  It rained overnight (of course… our bikes and gear bags were lying outside) and Kurt brought lube to give our chains some TLC for the ride.  We get to transition and go our separate ways to prep our bikes, and all that good stuff.  I put my joule on my bike and made sure it read, put my Infinit on my bike, and checked the tires.  All good.  Then off to the bathroom line.  Long, but moving… then time for the wetsuit.  Argh.  They announced the water temp was 59, at least that’s what I remember hearing.  They also announced that the air temp was cooler – that will make things not so fun getting out of the water.  Oh well… warming tent, remember the warming tent!  Getting on my wetsuit Kim sees me, drops her bag and gets in the bathroom line.  She eventually gives up because it’s not really moving… besides, that’s what wetsuits and open water swims are for.  🙂  We put our wetsuits on and start walking to the transition exit to cross the timing mat and line up on the beach.  It’s 6:30 and the place is a mob scene.

On the beach we go a bit wide right of the buoy line and get in the middle of the crowd front to back.  This seemed to work well for me in Florida and I thought that I’d be safe far off the buoy line.  I wade in to get my face wet and blow bubbles.  Cold, yes, but no big deal.  I’d been in the water twice already that weekend to swim and I knew I’d get used to it (translation:  my face, feet, and hands would go numb) in 5 minutes.  Out of the water to line up.  National Anthem, lots of cheering… then the gun.

This was the most ridiculous swim start I’ve ever experienced.  It was mayhem.  It was rough; it was fast; it was ugly.  I was getting hit from all directions at once and couldn’t even get vertical in the water.  My heart rate went through the roof and I couldn’t get it under control.  The thought of swimming was impossible.  I couldn’t do it.  Even if I wanted to, I just couldn’t – physically (because there was nowhere for me to go) or mentally (because my heart was in my throat and my head went to a very dark place).  I was doggy paddling and I turned around to see what was coming my way – I saw mobs of flailing arms, a few people doing exactly what I was, a few folks doing back stroke.   I wasn’t exactly scared but I wasn’t in my right mind either.  I tried to breathe and calm down.  It was no use.  I have to admit that in the first 3 minutes of the race I contemplated, very seriously, quitting.  I didn’t know if I could get on with this swim.  I didn’t know if I wanted to.  I had been in this position once before, at my first ever triathlon, a sprint.  At that race I side stroked until I could put my face in the water and swim… I did that on Sunday, too – couldn’t hurt to try.  Head above the water, breathing, moving forward.  Eventually I was able to start swimming.  I went wide and stayed there to avoid the washing machine – it really never let up as far as I could tell.  I wasn’t really sighting, there were always people around me and smacking into me.  Forward progress.  After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the first turn buoy.  Not as wide as I thought… The second turn was fairly quick after and at this point I’d hoped to stay on the buoy line.  I’m usually very good at swimming a straight line but for some reason I went way wide on the way back to the beach.  No wonder I wasn’t being molested, who the hell knows where I was swimming to but it wasn’t home.  As soon as I realized what was going on, I stepped on the gas and got myself back on track.  I was a bit disappointed as I figured my swim time would be abysmal but that’s life and a mass swim start is always unpredictable.  I was pretty amazed I was still swimming.

Lap two was still a bit rough as far as body contact but it was exponentially better.  I felt more confident and was in a good rhythm.  I was concentrating on my form and had made a conscious decision to try to make up some time.  I’m a good swimmer and I just piddled around for a mile so I certainly had the gas to do the second mile at a decent/up tempo pace.  My sighting and swimming were on the mark.  I stayed on the buoy line and it was incident free until close to the first turn when I got smacked on the right side of my head from behind – my goggles got thrown off and I was afraid I’d lost a contact… I was totally taken by surprise and swallowed a ton of water… had to calm down, fix my goggles (which always go on under the swim cap for just this reason – to avoid losing them), work out a cramp in my foot, and carry on.   With that exception, this loop was pretty easy … but mother nature had  her way of making it up to us… she picked up the wind and created one hell of a chop and current.  I was getting pushed off course, I was swallowing lake water every few breaths… it was such a pain in the ass, but I had a mission – to make up time because god dammit, swimming is my best leg.  I plodded along, hugging the buoy line and was finally on the beach.  I have never been so happy for a race swim to be over.  That was pretty much the worst race experience ever.  I can’t imagine anything worse and I was looking forward to getting on the bike.

I didn’t look for it, but couldn’t help but see the clock – 1:15:45 (38/110 in my division).  I must admit that was a shock to me.  I’d hoped for 1:10 or better but with all the difficulty of the first lap and the current in the second I assumed I’d been out there a lot longer.  It sure as hell felt like it.  Although my second loop was two minutes slower on the clock, I definitely made up time – considering the current I did really well. Thinking back, I can’t say that I even noticed the water temperature.  The start was such a nightmare I had a zillion other things (and body parts) to worry about – I didn’t even notice that the water was cold.  Then I got out of the water and had my wetsuit stripped… I definitely noticed the cold then.  Holy cold.  I asked the volunteer who stripped my suit (who actually wasn’t a wet suit stripper, not sure what she was doing there) where the warming tent was and she pointed and I trotted off.  Along the way I got my gear bag and I asked again where the warming tent was and I got shown to the changing tent.  I thought that was strange but didn’t know any better.  Into the tent I went… no warmth, just women changing…. and my friend Kim on her way out to the bike.  I called out to her and then found a chair and sat down.  A very nice woman came to my assistance.  She dumped my bag, I fished out my small towel and wiped my face and commenced teeth chattering and shivered in earnest.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  I couldn’t work my fingers.  I managed to peel myself into my bike top and Elaine essentially did the rest – pulling on my arm warmers, helping me with my socks, she even had to put my gear in my back pockets because my fingers weren’t nimble enough to open the pockets in my jersey.  I was a mess.  I thanked her profusely as she let me go on while she cleaned up my mess.  I walked out the tent, still asking about the warming tent and I finally got pointed in the right direction.  It was right at the swim exit, on the right side – I was directed towards the far left to the wet suit strippers and never saw it.  Argh…

I walked into the tent and was greeted to a wonderful fire stove and a chair and a huge burlap blanket.  There were several women in there already – most just out of the water (I’m sure I looked odd in my bike gear) and all of us shaking uncontrollably.  Some of these women were in really bad shape.  One I’m pretty sure got DNF’ed, she was lying on a beach chair, immobile.  Another said she was done… I don’t know if she continued on or not.  I have no idea how long I was in there but once my teeth stopped chattering I decided to move on.  I exited the tent, went to the bathroom, and proceeded to the bike racks.  I walked down transition to my row, called out my number and a little kid ran to my bike. Then… Nothing.  He just stood there.  Huh?  Then another volunteer pointed to him and told me that was my bike.  Yes, I know exactly where my bike is… why isn’t he bringing it to me?  Apparently they don’t do that here.  Whatever.  I walk down the row to my bike and thank the kid.  On the other side of the transition fence is my brother, taking pictures.  I hadn’t noticed, but I was shaking and chattering again.  Damn, this is going to be a long morning.

On the bike.  Cold. Wet.  It’s overcast, sort of misty, and windy.  I hope I’ll warm up soon but memories of IMFL flooded my mind – during that ride, when the air temp was in the high 40’s and it was similarly windy I was freezing and miserable on the bike for 20 miles.  I didn’t want to repeat that experience.  It will be what it will be.  Keep on pedaling.  Watch my power.  You can do this.  You know this course and you like this course.  Let’s get this done.  I really don’t have much to say about the bike.  The first out and back loop was along the lake, then we ride back to transition, up the street, and hop on the highway for a 20 mile jaunt down 95 and back again.  Terribly boring and relatively unattractive unless you remembered to look up over the cement barriers – which was hard to do with the traffic on my right and other riders coming back in on my left.  I really wasn’t a fan of the course set up like that.  I think it was pretty dangerous.  At some point in time nature called (I had obviously hydrated well) and the bathroom lines at the rest stops I’d been passing were ridiculous.  So, somewhere around mile 26, on a descent, I made myself relax… yes, it’s gross, but I felt so much better.  At the next aid station I grabbed a water bottle to spray myself down.  Good as clean.  Well, sort of.  I discovered that I am unable to pee while actually pedaling, and nature called again on the way back into town… no rest stops in sight so I waited for a clearing with some trees and pulled over walking back so I wasn’t immediately noticeable unless you we looking.  I got a few cat calls but all in good fun.  Back on my bike … up another hill I dropped a chain.  Well, that’s not exactly right, I was trying to shift into the big ring and it locked out on me… I couldn’t pedal.  I was able to clip out and coast… Jimmied it off and got it back into place and back on my bike… Okay, I can handle that – no complaints.  Screaming fun descent back into town to start loop 2.

The sun came out during the second loop.  I pulled down my arm warmers and eventually pulled them off with my teeth (and managed to not crash, I’m learning some mad bike handling skills).  Another bathroom break – this one had to be in a bathroom (argh… that’s a first in a race – not fan) and amazingly enough I came upon one, heading down to the lake, that didn’t have a line.  Could have been worse, but I was sick of wasting time, especially after the swim and who knows how long in the warming tent.  Rest of the loop continued on in an uneventful fashion.  It was getting warm.  But I was sticking to my plan and having no problems!  I was losing interest in the ride and promised myself a honey stinger waffle as a treat at the turn around point on the highway.  I usually stick to just Infinit on the bike, but I always carry other nutrition to be safe… and I had some hammer huckleberry gel and a waffle on me.  The waffles rock and I promised myself one as a reward for getting all the big hills done.  It was sooooo good!  Made me instantly happier.  Oh, the little things!

Generally speaking I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing on the bike.  My watts were where I wanted them – .70FTP.  I wasn’t spiking watts on the climbs… and I was descending and handling the flats fast!  My legs were getting tired but I didn’t give up or fall off in effort when I easily could have (it was actually hard to keep my watts high enough at times when I stopped paying attention).  I trusted the plan and trusted that I wasn’t digging a hole for the marathon.  Another on-bike downhill bathroom break and I made it home without any problems!  Sweet.  I’d guessed my bike split would be between 6:30-6:45 based on my training ride on the course (pedal time of 6:40 – but that didn’t include stops for bathroom or special needs).  My actual time was 6:36:19, 16.9avg mph.  Right on the money and two for two in guesstimates (I guessed my swim would be 1:10-:15).  Special needs and my 2 pit stops didn’t mess me up too badly. I handed my bike off (volunteers took it; I didn’t have to rack it), got my gear bag and headed into the changing tent for T2.  Amazingly I had the same volunteer, Elaine, as my personal assistant.  I thanked her profusely for her help in T1… and she was very gracious in receiving my praise.  She dumped my bag and I proceeded to change.

T2 involved an entire wardrobe change.  A fresh pair of shorts was pretty important to me after my acceptance of nature’s calls on the bike.  I’d also packed face wipes to wipe off the grime, grease, and general yuckiness.  I also traded the bike jersey for a running top.  I changed as quickly as I could and walked out of the tent… changing the Garmin to run and starting my program. As I was exiting the chute I remembered I hadn’t stretched and I really wanted to – so I pulled over and stretched out my hip flexors and quads.  What’s 2 minutes more when I anticipated being out there for 5+ hours?  The run was a huge unknown for me.  I didn’t run much last year because of plantars fasciitis (which made for a very long and painful IM experience) and when I started working with my coach and his partner at Pursuit Athletic Performance, I was put in run jail – not allowed to run from October to mid-February when I got green lighted to start up again really, really gradually.  In training I never did a run longer than 2 hours.  I was worried, but I trusted my coach.  He’s been doing this a while.  I also trusted myself.  I did my homework and tried my best to be ready for this day.  I was in the best shape I’d been in for years – the best shape for any of my IMs.  We had a plan – I’d run 2 miles and walk 2 minutes.  When I got to the 20 mile mark, I was allowed to run straight through if I could.  So that was my plan. Of course the aid stations didn’t correspond to my walk breaks (how terribly inconvenient and inconsiderate…ha ha) so I amended my plan on the fly.

I did the 2 and 2, but walked through aid stations when I needed/wanted something.  By this point in time it had gotten pretty warm so I pretty much always wanted something to drink.  By the way, mango Powerade Perform is disgusting.  Seriously, not at all appetizing – even heavily diluted (which I would have done even if I liked it).  Why not stick to a normal flavor?  Lemon-lime would be fine, thank you.  I just couldn’t drink the mango so I stuck to water.   I wasn’t terribly worried.  I nailed my bike nutrition.  I had a gel at mile 7 and another at mile 14 or 15.  I was never hungry.  I must have been well hydrated because I probably went to the bathroom 4 or 5 times, another marathon first.  What’s strange is that my mouth always felt dry, but I was definitely going to the bathroom… hmm… I was a bit worried, but I felt fine and kept going.    After about an hour I discovered that I didn’t take my S!Caps out of my bike jersey and didn’t have an emergency stash in my spi belt (note to self: add that to my packing list – although I’m sure it’s already there and I just missed it).  Not so good on a warm, sunny run – but I was really glad I took them every hour on the bike despite it being overcast and not terribly war.  So, another plan adjustment.  When the chicken broth came out, during lap two, I started taking some – maybe every third station.

My brother and Rachel were out on the course and it was awesome.  Dan was with a contingent from Portland and got them chanting my name whenever I approached.  It was great fun!  On the first loop after seeing me round a corner he hopped on his bike and rode down the hill with me and we chatted about the morning and I told him about the clusterfuck that was the swim.  He told me I looked great and sent me on my way.  At the bottom of the hill Rachel was with some of her teammates (men dressed in nurses’ uniforms) and got a high five from her.  Turn around and start back down… On the run I saw a few folks from DC Tri (Alejandro, Jen, Catherine) and lots of EN’ers out there and cheered and gave high-fives when I could.  I was desperately looking for Kim but never saw her and I got worried.  I passed her on the bike and saw her several times after turns on the bike course… I didn’t understand why I didn’t see her on the run.  Hmm… it’s funny I saw people I didn’t expect to see (and met people from DC whom I have mutual friends with) but didn’t see the people I was actually looking for.

Sometime towards the end of loop 1 my motivation was running very low.  I wasn’t hitting the wall.  Sure, things were getting tight, but I was totally able to keep going, but I wondered what I was trying to prove.  Did I really want to finish?  The whole lack of enthusiasm race weekend culminated in this internal dilemma on the run course.  I was over it.  I wasn’t having a bad time, but I wasn’t really having a good time either.  I just didn’t have a really good reason to keep going.  I was bored.  Luckily for me, I’m a very stubborn person and quitting really isn’t a good alternative to me.  I wanted to finish the marathon to cross a state off my list.  My brother was there cheering for me.  I wanted to go to Paul Bunyan’s after the race with Kim for a burger and a shake like we’d been planning for a month.  Not exactly the most inspirational of reasons to gut it out, but hey, it is what it is and it is where I was.

I plugged along on loop two, following my plan and walking through aid stations.  I was able to keep jogging throughout but stopped a few times to stretch my back which had been tight all day (probably from the swim) and rub out my IT bands which were getting tight.  I had to really think about what my body was telling me – most definitely it was not injury pain, it was standard marathon pain.  Huge relief.  I was still able to slog up the hills but somewhere around mile 16 or so I wasn’t able to jog down them.  My left knee would feel weak, almost like it was going to collapse under me.  So the plan changed again and I started walking down hills.  The miles started ticking off and I was really looking forward to finishing.  At 22 I cheered out loud and a man in front of me asked if I was okay.  I said yes, I was just so happy to see the 22 mile sign… I can suffer through anything for 4 more miles.  Then somewhere around mile 23 or so we were in a neighborhood where a huge block party was going on, and getting very animated at this point.  I gave them a wave as House of Pain started playing.  I recognized the song immediately and stopped in my tracks, put my hands up, and started jumping pumping my hands above my head.  The crowd erupted as the shriek of the song started… that lifted my spirits a ton and I started jogging away with them cheering in the background… there was a spring in my step for the first time all day.  I’m not going to win; I might as well have a good time and let the crowd know how much they’re appreciated.  It’s amazing what little things can do and where your head can go during one of these events.

Two miles to go and for the first time all day someone paid attention to my metronome.  I’d been wearing it all day at the lowest it would go, but it was still pretty noticeable if you were near me.  A man and woman ran by talking then one of them asked is that a bomb.  I laughed and said yes and that it was set to go off in 2 miles.  We’d just passed the 24 mile marker and the guy said that was too bad, I wouldn’t even finish.  Half mile later another woman heard it and asked me if I had a bomb.  Seriously, what are people thinking?  I told her it was a metronome, but if it made her run faster yes, it was a bomb.  She laughed and went on her way.  Getting closer… one mile… half mile… turn down the main drag with the finish line in the distance.  I took my sunglasses off my head and tucked them in the back of my jersey (for the picture).  My brother spotted me and I waved and smiled… and I was off.

I have no idea where the energy came from but the spring in my step was back and the next thing I know I was “running” down the chute.  I heard my name called (well, it was mispronounced, but I knew it was me) and I let out a call and put out my hand and got high fives all the way down the chute cheering along the way.

Rebecca Hirselj.  You are an Ironman!

Swim:  1:15:45 (38/110 division, 156 gender, 771 overall)

T1:  21:21

Bike:  6:36:19; 16.96mph (44, 196, 1207)

T2:  7:31

Run:  5:26:28; 12:27 pace (58, 256, 1294)

Epilogue:  I really can’t believe I was able to run/walk the entire marathon.  I’ve only been back on my feet since mid-February and when I started I was running for 2 minutes at a time for maybe 15 minutes total.  It was weeks before I was running 10 minutes at a time… then up to 12, 15, 20, and so on.  It was a very conservative approach and I admit there were times I was very impatient and nervous.  But ultimately I believed in the system and my coach and I stuck with it and did my functional strength work and followed the plan.  I did it.  26.2 miles with only a few months of run training and only 3 two-hour runs.  No, it wasn’t ideal – I think my coach will admit to that, too – but it’s what we had to work with and we made it happen.  What’s equally, if not more amazing to me, the morning after the IM I could walk up and down stairs… like a normal person (not backwards, sideways, or on my tush).  I could sit and stand with minimal pain and stiffness.  I’ve done 5 marathons and 2 other IMs and have never felt that good the day after a race.  Usually I don’t have that kind of mobility for 3 or 4 days.  For the first time I went into a race ready and healthy.  I had a good race and didn’t relapse back into the cycle of injury.  For that I am eternally grateful to Coach Al Lyman (and Dr. Kurt Strecker) and Pursuit Athletic Performance.