Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: A Race of Attrition

Lake Coeur d'Alene, I love you

People always talk about the "journey" of triathlon being more important than the destination, and I do agree with that.  Let's face it, we come to race and race well.  That's our purpose for being in a particular place with months of training and preparation culminating in this one event.  However, I will say that when both things come together, the experience AROUND the race, and the race itself, it's like winning the lottery.  It doesn't happen that often, so you have to really cherish it when it does.  I went into Ironman Coeur d'Alene with high hopes, as it's generally a cool race which suits my individual needs and a tough bike course, which I really like and enjoy.  Let's be honest, I also really like having a wetsuit swim basically guaranteed, as I'm definitely not a fish like the other girls (i.e. I just try not to be dead last out of the water! ha!).  What became very apparent for this race was that it's Mother Nature who has the upper hand on all of us and, with a prediction of 108 degrees, it was going to be "on the sun."
It took me a few days to come to terms with the weather forecast and adjust to the fact that we probably wouldn't be wearing wetsuits for the swim portion due to our temperature cutoff being lower than the age group racers.  While the weather didn't cooperate at all, the rest of my trip was already coming together amazingly well.  I had a great homestay situation with Charlie Tollin, his wife, Julie, and their family's cabin right on the lake.  It was quiet and serene, allowing me to prepare in peace without the hustle and bustle of town.  I had a couple of rides where I was just seriously loving my life so much, just being in this place with so many nice people.  When I finally accepted the fact that the race was going to be about who could deal with the extreme weather conditions and slow down the least vs. me having some spectacular run where I'd smoke it, I finally got some peace. 

 Charlie and I checking out the beach when I arrived on Tuesday

On Friday, my crew arrived and I knew that, no matter what, I was prepared for anything that could be thrown at me.  I didn't have place or time expectations.  Instead, I just knew I would have to be the best of the best at managing all day long and being flexible.  My coach, Jesse, and my good friend, Linsey, were amazing at keeping me calm and making me laugh.  It was the perfect combination. 

When we lined up for our non-wetsuit swim, I had high hopes of going out hard and hanging with a group.  When the gun sounded, I went as hard as humanly possible and watched the group start to separate right in front of me only to get behind a girl who just let the gap form.  Within 30 seconds, I knew I was going to be swimming with two other slower girls, or by myself.  For awhile I let the other girls pull me around, but I finally gave in around the half way point of the first loop and started hammering away at the front.  The swim seemed to take awhile, but I promised myself if I just kept swimming hard, I'd be thankful.  Getting back to transition and seeing that your bike is the only one left on your rack is always humbling.  No time for negativity!  "Time to get to work!!" I thought!
Photo Credit Sue Hutter

My coach and I had put together a strategy that included going out a touch harder than usual due to the temperatures being relatively cooler (like 80) earlier in the bike.  My legs always take awhile to come around after the swim, so this was a challenge, but I didn't give up on our number goal and the hills climbing out of town finally brought my power up to our target average.  Drink, Drink, Drink!  I thought about it all day long and didn't sip but guzzled the fluid down.  While I hoped to have to pee by the two hour mark, things weren't coming along so easily for this girl with a giant 48-55oz / hour sweat rate, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I seemed to be passing a few girls which was keeping me motivated until I downshifted hard on the way back toward town on a steep downhill and proceeded to try and pedal but NOPE, chain was stuck solid.  I calmly looked around, started to slow down and proceeded to pull off the road.  I assessed that the chain had overshot my hardest gear and was now stuck halfway on and halfway off the bottom gear.  I grabbed it and attempted to get it back on but it was hard to budge.  Eventually, I got it.  Now my fingers were totally black with grease, but after running the pedals a couple times to check it and I was back in business!  In the meantime, two girls had flown past me that I had just spent time passing.  UGH!  Onward! 

I seemed to lose a little steam after that and had a little trouble maintaining my power for the rest of the bike.  I was having trouble pushing my numbers back up and my legs were not loving what I was asking.  The temperature was now so hot the wind wasn't even cooling and the pavement seemed to radiate heat going up the hills.  The rest of the bike I spent trying to manage my thoughts and telling myself that drinking and eating were the most important things, not power numbers.  I was completely unaware of my position in the field, but I knew better than to assess anyway.  There was plenty of racing left and I needed to focus on what I could control. 

 LNC getting the shot and cheering!  Best friend ever that day!! 
Photo: Sam Voight
I came into transition with Amber and took the time to pee which I knew was a decent sign that I was not completely dehydrated.  The first few miles of the run were rough.  I didn't feel too sprightly, but I had a bike escort (meaning I was in the top 5).  The picture above is so becoming as I shove a super hot brown banana all over my sweating grimy face.  Ice everywhere was the name of the game to manage the heat and a nice steady, even heart rate.  I didn't look at one mile split for the ENTIRE run.  There was no point in "seeing" what I already knew.  I was running much slower than normal in these conditions, but I had to believe everyone else was too. 

 One mile at a time, I chipped away and my body finally started to feel a bit better like I was able to run a little stronger.  Ice down my Coeur Sports top was a lifesaver!!  Jesse and Linsey were everywhere.  It was a huge help to hear their voices and they let me know I was actually starting to put some time into Katy and, eventually, into Amber which lifted my spirits a bit! 

My right thigh started to get this awesome pock marked edema for some reason and, with each picture, it got worse as the race went on!  Around 13 miles, I finally made the pass to get into third and Amber, in true Amber form, didn't let me go without a fight.  She kept the pressure on for quite some time and I could hear cheers for her just behind me, so I didn't ease up one bit!  I thought about all of the people tracking me, my people, Linsey & Jesse, who there just to see me give it everything I had, my husband who's supported me unconditionally for so many years doing what I love.  More salt, more caffeine, more ice, more Coke.. at every aid station, I threw it all in, thankful that my stomach seemed to be feeling relatively good.  My biggest complaints were my skin feeling like it was on fire and someone beating my legs with a hammer every step. 

I knew I wasn't catching Amanda, but I also became very attached to third and, even though I didn't hear Amber was close, I wasn't taking any chances.  Those last three miles, I drove my body like it was a machine.  People cheered and I was so thankful, but I could barely even look forward, let alone smile and thank them like I wish I could. 
I started driving my arms and driving my body harder and harder while my legs started cramping from heat and exhaustion.  "Just get there" I told myself, "You'll figure the rest out when you cross the line."  That last straight away before the finish took FOREVER!!  I made it over the line not one and second too soon.

I was elated, not about my placing or time, but about the demons I fought all day and that I hadn't given in when I wanted to walk off the course every single mile of 26 miles. 
The celebration was short lived as seconds after crossing, my eyesight started coming in and out and I literally started to hit the deck, wavering around and losing consciousness. I don't remember much after that except that Linsey and Jesse were there and helped the wonderful medical staff to get me to safety.  Thank you to all the volunteers and medical staff who assisted in all of our care that day.  We needed you desperately and would have never made it without you. 

Hats off to Heather Jackson who took home her first Ironman win in smashing style and Amanda Stevens who also had an awesome race and placed second.  Great job to every pro woman as we were all warriors out there and to every single person who finished.  Even those who didn't make it to the line this day, don't give up, your time will come. 

HUGE thank you to Jesse and Linsey for being there with me.  Thank you to my husband, Kyle, who is always there, for me in thick and thin, and supports me unconditionally.  Thanks to my family, friends and everyone who took the time to write a note of encouragement or well wishes after the race!  Thank you to Charlie, Julie, Sonja, Analise and Luke who let me invade your home and shuttled me around to the airport etc.  

Such a special trip I will never ever forget.

Loved my signs at the cabin after the race!  Thanks guys!! 

As always, I couldn't do this without the support of my 2015 sponsors!

1 comment:

Shelley Johnson said...

What an amazing story, Kim. I am so impressed and inspired by your perseverance! Despite the conditions (H.O.T.) it sounds like you raced with joy this day. I hope you are able to tap into your success at CdA during future challenges. There's a reason they call this thing the Ironman! Congratulations - so happy for you!