Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Report: Swim (8/21/2016)


The morning of my Ironman dawned bright and early.  Well, dark and way too early, rather.  I woke up around 1:15am to go to the bathroom, and I didn’t sleep a wink after heading back to bed.  Finally, around 2:50am, I gave up, hopped out of bed, and started getting ready for the day.  I tackled breakfast early because, if previous race morning experiences were any indication, my nerves would make eating impossible if I waited too long.  I managed to eat a banana, a bagel, and a bowl of cereal before the thought of food made me want to vomit.

We took two cars down to the start.  My dad and I rode together.  As we entered Coeur d’Alene, he got a bit turned around.  “We’re too far over,” he said.  “We’ve got to go this way.” And then he screeched around the corner.

I had pulled my phone out to see where we were on the map.  “No, you just turned away from City Park.”

“No, I don’t think so.  We shouldn’t have passed those hotels.”

“Dad, no, I’m literally looking at our location on this map right now and we are moving away from the park.”


Eventually, I got him to listen to me, and we pulled up into the parking lot near the race.  I hopped out to get body marking and set up my transitions, and he parked the car.  After getting my ducks all in a row, I saw Rob.  I was thrilled to see him, as my nerves were pretty bad and I needed a good hug.  My parents, Rob, and I all hung out for a while waiting for the start time to approach.  I wiggled into my wetsuit, and before long, with a proper dose of panic, bid my family goodbye and headed to the start line.

I lined up right at the front of the 1:15-1:30 group.  Though my goal was 1:20, I thought my recent swim times indicated that it was very likely I’d swim around 1:15.  Because of that and the tendency of people to seed themselves too high in the swim, I felt good about my location.


As I approached the start, the announcer yelled out, “Make sure your timing chip is securely fastened to your left ankle!” I looked down at my ankle.  Timing chip in place.  On the right ankle.  I had a moment of panic.  Not only was it under my wetsuit, but I had safety pinned the chip in place for extra security.  I didn’t think I had time to switch it over.  Surely it didn’t matter if it was on the wrong ankle?  I turned and asked someone, mostly for reassurance.  He said it was fine, so I took his word for it.

My nerves grew as I inched closer and closer to the start line.  Finally, I passed through the starting arch and ran into the water.  The start was surprisingly chill.  In fact, it was one of the least physical open water starts in which I’ve participated. Because of the rolling start, I only entered the water with a few athletes.  There was almost no bumping or jockeying for position.  It wasn’t more than a hundred yards before I was swimming in fairly clear water.  Once I was free of other bodies, my adrenaline died down a bit.  All of a sudden, I felt a giant grin spread across my face underwater.  I was doing an Ironman!


The air was still, so the water was smooth.  I swam at a comfortable and sustainable pace.  About halfway out the first lap, I realized I didn’t know how far I had gone or how much further I had to go.  This swim sure seemed to be taking a while.  I tried to remember that time slows down when swimming and whenever I do open water swimming, I think to myself, “Wow, that must have been an hour!” only to check my watch and see that it has actually been thirty minutes. The buoys were numbered, but I couldn’t remember if there were eight or ten before we turned.  I suspected it was ten, so I was surprised when I saw the red turn buoy right after passing buoy number seven.

As I made the turn east, I saw the sun just starting to peek out over the hills.  It wasn’t affecting visibility yet, but I knew it would be on the second lap and made a mental note of it.  We only swam east for about 100 yards before making the turn back to the shore. During the swim back, I noticed that I seemed to be slowly catching up and passing different groups of swimmers, so although I didn’t know my pace, I felt like I was swimming well.

After the first lap, we actually exited the water, ran a very short distance along the beach, and then hopped back in the water for the second lap.  During this beach run, I took the Gu I had stashed in the wrist of my wetsuit.  I was expecting the run to be a little longer, and I barely had time to shove the trash back into my wetsuit before I was off on the second lap.

A few strokes into the second lap, I realized I hadn’t checked my split.  Fortunately, the water was clear enough that I could easily sneak a glance at my watch.  When I saw 35:xx, I knew I was swimming well.  The second lap was a little slower than the first, both because of a little fatigue in my arms and because the swimmers were more spread out, so I wasn’t drafting as much.

When I hit the turn buoy, I turned straight into the sun.  I literally could not see more than a few feet in front of me, but I knew the second turn buoy was very close.  I also caught glimpses of kayakers carefully corralling some sun-blind swimmers in front of me back onto the course.  I knew I was safe from going too far off course.  For this short stretch, I navigated off glimpses of other swimmers and kayaks before making the turn back to shore.

About halfway back to the shore, I felt something strange.  My timing chip had slipped out from under my wetsuit.  And then I felt it slip further down my ankle.  There was a moment of panic until I remembered the safety pin holding it firmly in place, even in the case of total Velcro failure.  It was not coming off.  I have never safety pinned a timing chip on before, and I mentally thanked the man running the athlete briefing who had suggested it.

I continued to catch up to groups of swimmers for most of the way back until I started getting close to shore.  Then, I suddenly got into the wrestling matches I had missed at the start.  People ran into me and even swam over me.  I couldn’t figure out why because I had been passing people steadily.  Then I remembered… we were almost done!  And this was, of course, a race.  I didn’t really want to bury myself in the swim, but I did pick it up a notch that final few hundred yards.  I swam until my hands scraped the bottom of the lake then ran out of the water towards transition.




I was quickly stripped of my wetsuit and headed for my cycling gear.  As I ran up to the bike gear bags, someone yelled out my number.  And then there was a volunteer holding my bag up for me.  Talk about customer service!  I grabbed the bag and looked at the port-a-potty before deciding I didn’t have to pee that badly and running into the changing tent.

The volunteer that helped me was on top of things, but I honestly didn’t know what to do with all the help.  I’m used to going through stuff myself.  I kept accidentally putting stuff back into the bag myself when the volunteer was totally happy to do that for me.  I threw on my helmet and the bracelet they gave us to give to a volunteer that we encountered during the race, without whom we felt we wouldn’t have finished.

But soon enough, I was ready to get my bike.  As I ran towards my bike, I saw Rob on the other side of the fence.  I gave him a big smile and a wave as I reached my bike.  I waited to put on my cycling shoes until I was at my bike to avoid getting dirt stuck in the cleats.  It also gave my Garmin a bit of time to wake up.  After I was ready to go, I ended up standing still for a minute or so while my Garmin found a satellite.  Fortunately, though, it didn’t take too long, and before I knew it, I was running with my bike towards the mount line.  The mount line, though, was practically miles away.  I felt like I was running for ages before I finally saw the folks in front of me mounting their bikes.  I reached the line, mounted my own bike, and was off on my 112 mile ride.




Weekly Recap (8/22-8/28)

Monday: Rest
On Monday, Rob and I drove back to Nampa to spend one more night with my family.  My sisters and nieces and nephews came over and we had a little party with pizza and ice cream cake.  It was a fun way to celebrate my accomplishment!

The older two are learning to look at the camera for pictures, at least!

Tuesday: Rest
And on Tuesday, Rob and I drove back to Salt Lake.  We were 100% exhausted by the time we were done with the drive.  The adrenaline from the weekend was wearing off.  Neither one of us even unpacked.

Wednesday: Rest
It was my first day back at work.  I was actually glad to get back into my regular routine.  Fortunately, my day-to-day work has been light lately (I’ve been working on project-type things instead), so I didn’t have any catastrophes or any build-up of work waiting for me.

Thursday: Swim—Masters swim team
I ventured back to the pool for my first post-Ironman workout.  We did a distance set in Masters, but I took it pretty easy.  The workout was as follows:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
6 x 50 (distance per stroke)
4 x 25 (eyes closed)
3 x (200 build
5 minutes swim)
150 easy
I was surprised how rough this workout was on me.  For the rest of the day, I felt like I had done a long run or bike ride in the morning instead of an easy swim.  Ironman fatigue is real!

Friday: Run—30:00
I kind of felt like being active on Friday, but I wasn’t feeling an early wakeup and hard swim in the morning.  So I brought my running clothes to work and did a quick and easy thirty minutes during lunch.  I took it very slow, and I was still feeling pretty tired and ready to stop by the end.  However, it didn’t seem to wipe me out as completely as my swim the day before had, which surprised me a bit.

Saturday: Bike—1:00:20 (16.47 miles)
On Saturday morning, I took my bike out for the first time since the race.  It was remarkably easy getting ready for a short morning ride as opposed to a 6-7 hour long one.  My legs were a little slow getting started, but once I warmed up a bit, I felt surprisingly good.  I couldn’t have handled any serious hills, but the route I did felt just fine.  This was the first workout where I wasn’t thinking that I was tired/stiff/sore from the Ironman the entire time, so I think I’m recovering well.

Sunday: Bike—1:00:28 (16.43 miles)
I did another easy ride on Sunday morning.  It almost exactly the same as my ride on Saturday morning, and I felt equally okay.  I’m definitely not fully recovered yet.  These short workouts are fine, but I can’t believe how wiped out I am at the end of a remarkably relaxing day.  I know I’m getting there, though, and I suspect that after another week or two of taking things easy, I’ll be able to start thinking about what I want to accomplish between now and the start of the next triathlon season.

Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2016 Pre-race Report

Doing an Ironman is an ordeal.

It’s not just the training or the race.  The actual logistics of the event itself are just difficult to navigate.  You have to pack up half your household, somehow transport a bike that is likely your most prized possession, and then actually get yourself and your support crew to the location.  On top of that, you go through the entire check-in process and pack about a thousand bags and check them all in at different times.  It’s just an ordeal, and planning and executing that part of the event can be complicated.

I wanted to spend some time in Idaho with my family before heading up to Coeur d’Alene.  It had been a while since I’d seen my nieces and nephews, so I wanted some quality aunt time with them.  But I think the main reason was that I knew if I drove up to Idaho on the Monday before the race, that meant I would have to be packed and ready by the Monday before the race.  It was an excellent way to keep myself from procrastinating.  Rob wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of taking that much time off work, so we talked about different options for flying him up later or having him drive up later.  In the end, he was more than happy to do what made me the most comfortable, and that was driving up together so I wouldn’t have to drive my unreliable car or pay for an expensive plane ticket for one of us.

So, on Sunday, I packed up all my Ironman equipment in addition to everything I would need for a week away from home, and on Monday morning, Rob and I drove up to Idaho.  We stopped at TriTown (the bike/tri shop we used when we lived in Boise) on our way into town, and I got some brand new race tires before heading to my parents’ house for some time with my crazy family.

Smart-eyeing all the cool gear.

The time off before the race was welcome.  I was able to get my workouts in without any stress, and with my nieces and nephews always available to distract me, I was able to take my mind off the race a little.  The last week or so of work consisted mostly of me realizing I was sitting at my desk and worrying about my race instead of actually working, so the distraction of a few wild kids was actually very helpful.

On Thursday, Rob, my parents, and I drove up to Coeur d’Alene.  We ended up driving into town right along the highway that composed more than half of the Ironman bike course.

“Oh!  This is where I’ll be riding!” I said to Rob.  “It’ll be a good chance to actually see what the course looks like!”

We descended a hill, and when we reached the bottom, I saw what my future contained—a steep hill that seemed to go on forever, with the road disappearing as it curved behind some beautiful evergreens.  We started up the hill, and as the seconds ticked by without any relief in the grade, the mood in the car became somber.

“You’re riding up this?  Twice?!” Rob asked.

“Well, I’ve prepared for it,” I replied.  But I’m certain the doubt in my voice was evident.

We stopped in town on our way in so I could do a short swim in the lake.  My parents had driven up separately and met us in town.  “Did you see those hills?” my dad asked.  “Are you riding up those?”  I attempted to feign the same confidence I had attempted to feign earlier while getting into my wetsuit.


The water felt wonderful, and although my arms felt a little sluggish, the swim helped calm me down and distracted me from the hills on the course.  I couldn’t believe how clear the water was.  It was so clear, I actually saw a few beer cans sitting at the bottom of the lake.

After my swim, we drove to our residence for the weekend.  My parents’ neighbors have a vacation home up in Coeur d’Alene about twenty minutes outside of town.  They were kind enough to let us stay there at no charge.  For an introverted slob like myself, staying somewhere outside of town with a little space to spread out was perfect.  Crowds and socializing wear me out, so having my own room and a nice backyard porch (with a beautiful view) to which I could escape helped me avoid tiring myself out completely before the race even started.

Engrossed in my phone (in other words, relaxing)

On Friday morning, my parents and I left Rob behind (he went on a bike ride) and drove down to town to check in to the race.  The atmosphere was awesome.  The roads and lake were peppered with triathletes getting in their final workouts before the race.  We got to the expo early, about ten minutes before check in even opened.  A line was already beginning to form, and by the time it opened at 10:00am, the line had grown exponentially.  The check in process was quick and efficient, and I was pleasantly surprised at the swag.  All the athletes got a nice (and giant) wide-mouth backpack, easily large enough to a helmet, bike shoes, and a wetsuit.  After checking in, we attended the athlete briefing and then headed out to drive the course.

Athlete check-in
Athlete briefing

The hills seemed a little less intimidating the second time around, but only just.  They still looked much steeper than the grades I’d done in training, even though the numbers didn’t really back up that impression.  I tried to focus on the numbers instead of my perception, but I wasn’t entirely successful.  On top of the course fears, I found myself feeling a bit punky.  I had had a slightly scratchy throat for a couple of days that I was desperately trying to ignore, but I also felt run-down and a little achy.  To be honest, I was worried I was coming down with a bad cold.  But I knew if I was, there was nothing I could do about it.  In addition to all of that, the predicted high for race day was up to 90°.  Of course, the high the day after the race was only supposed to be 78°.  “Great,” I said to my dad, “It’s going to be hot on Sunday, plus really windy because that cold front will blow in.”  But there was nothing I could do about any of it, so after heading “home” after driving the course, I just did my best to relax and be positive.  I focused on packing up my transition bags and getting everything where it needed to be for the equipment check-in on Saturday.

It looks horrible, but there was a method to my madness!

Saturday morning dawned, and I knew that in less than 24 hours, I’d be starting my Ironman.  I had a quick run-through of each sport scheduled.  I did my run in the morning before heading into town for the bike check-in.  Physically, I felt great.  My body felt rested and ready to go.  I was still a nervous wreck, though.  I took my bike to the little shop they have for Ironman competitors because the front derailleur was rubbing slightly in my hardest gears.  It seemed like there was going to be a long wait time which threw off my whole plan for the day and also threw me into a bit of a panic.  I started tearing up right there at the mechanic’s tent, and they immediately got someone to work on my bike.  Of course, then I felt bad because I worried they were working on my bike just because I started crying and that I was being unfair and manipulative even though the tears were completely genuine… if a bit silly and overwrought. But my bike was fixed.  And it would have been a bummer if my five-minute fix had to wait for things like aerobar installations to be done (yes, the woman in front of me really was getting aerobars installed on her bike the day before the race).

With the crisis averted, I hopped in the lake for a short swim.  The water felt great, and I felt as strong on the swim as I had on my run.  I followed the swim with an equally successful short bike ride.  Then, we spent some time walking around the expo for a bit.  I’m not a huge lover of expos, but I do like to see the different products and grab whatever freebies I can.  After taking a look at the expo, we headed back “home.”  I was relaxing by mid-afternoon, and I kept looking at my watch and thinking about where I would be in my race by that time tomorrow.

Ready to swim.
A field of bike bags
And a field of run bags.

I actually handled my nerves pretty well that evening.  During one particular nervous spell, though, my dad gave me some advice.  “Katie,” he said, “just remember that you don’t have to run the last mile of the marathon until you get there.  You don’t have to start the marathon until you get off the bike, and you don’t have to ride the last 20 miles when you are still on the swim.  Just take the race one piece at a time.  Focus on the part of the race you are doing.”  I filed that away in the “advice to think about during the race” folder of my brain.

Surprisingly, I managed to eat a good dinner, and after watching a little bit of the Olympics, I was in bed by 9:00pm.  That’s a little late considering the 3:00am alarm I had set, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep much earlier and that a great night’s sleep the night before an event actually isn’t all that important.  And I didn’t want to lie awake for hours trying to sleep.  So, after a few “false starts,” where I would start to fall asleep and then suddenly panic about one minuscule thing or another, I was asleep for the last time before my Ironman.

Weekly Recap (8/15-8/21)

Monday: Swim—20 minutes; Bike—30:41 (8.84 miles); Run—30:00 (3.45 miles)
On Monday, I woke up and headed to the pool… last workout in Salt Lake City!  I did four sets of five minutes at an easy pace.  I focused on my form in the water and on keeping a long and relaxed stroke.   After the swim, I headed straight to Rob’s house, and we left for Nampa (where we were staying a few days before heading up to Coeur d’Alene).

When we got to Nampa, I went out for a short ride followed by a short run.  I tried to do these around Ironman pace.  I succeeded on the bike (though I went by effort rather than pace because it was a flat ride) and didn’t succeed on the run (too fast!).

Tuesday: Swim—900 yards; Run—15:00; Bike—22:05 (6.52 miles)
On Tuesday, I had very short sessions in each sport.  The shorter workout time was nice, but getting ready for each sport was a pain.  I started out with a swim in the morning.  After a short warm-up, I did six fast 50s and then a short cooldown.  Afterwards, on the indoor track inside the gym I was using, I did my run, which was very similar—a five minute warm-up followed by five one minutes strides with a five minute cooldown afterwards.  Then I went back to my parents’ house and did a similar ride.  I warmed up for five minutes, did five two minute fast efforts, and then cooled down.  I was done before 8:00am and had the rest of the day to relax and play with my nieces and nephews.

Wednesday: Run—25:00 (2.63 miles); Bike—50:18 (14.53 miles)
I woke up before the sun and got going on my run.  I did the run first because I didn’t feel comfortable riding in the dark on unfamiliar roads.  The run was supposed to be a warm-up, a short cruise a little faster than race pace, and a cool-down.  My overall pace was 9:30/mile, so I think I hit those paces pretty well.  The ride was similar—a warm-up, a cruise at race pace, and a cool-down.  I felt strong on the bike and enjoyed the ride.  The sunrise was beautiful, and I made it out to some farmland which only made the scenery more enjoyable.  Then I went to my sister’s house and saw my wonderful niece leave for her first day of kindergarten.  She was so excited she couldn’t even stop wiggling for the picture!

Thursday: Swim—20:03
On Thursday, Rob, my parents, and I packed up two cars and made the drive to Coeur d’Alene.  Thursday was all about settling in.  We stopped in town for a quick practice swim.  The water was wonderful, if a little warm. I was pleasantly surprised at how little chop there was.  I honestly felt a little weak in the water, but I chalked it up to being in the car for over seven hours directly prior to swimming and didn’t think too much of it.  After the swim, we all drove up to the house where we were staying.  It was about twenty minutes outside of town, but it had a beautiful backyard.


Friday: REST
I imagine I’ll talk about the check-in process and the whole Ironman experience in my race report, so I’ll keep it light here.  Friday was the day for checking in to the race, going to the athlete briefing, and checking out the Ironman store.  So, while it was a rest day, I actually had to make a concerted effort to make sure I got the rest I needed and didn’t completely tire myself out by walking around all day.

Saturday: Run—10:00; Swim—10:00; Bike—20:00
I had a quick run-through of all three events on Saturday, just to wake up my muscles and remind them what they would be doing for hours upon hours the next day.  I didn’t measure out my distances for any of this.  I wanted to see how I felt and not be tempted to analyze a bunch of numbers and paces the day before the race.  I felt fresh and strong, which was encouraging.  I ran before heading into town.  It was actually cold, and I donned a long-sleeve t-shirt for the first time in ages.  Once we got into town, I went for a quick swim. The water was perfect.  It was still as warm as it was on Thursday, but I swam earlier, and the cooler air made the slightly-too-warm water feel perfect.  And after that, I did a short ride.  My legs felt fresh, and I enjoyed getting onto the bike for the first time in a few days.

Sunday (projected): Swim—2.4 miles; Bike—112 miles; Run—26.2 miles
Okay, so I’m posting this weekly recap before the race.  Here’s hoping I actually make it through these distances!

On fearlessness

There is a certain fearlessness in children.  They haven’t yet mastered the art of self-preservation.  I distinctly remember the only two times I ever went skiing.  The first time, I was in elementary school.  I was bombing down hills without a care in the world (obviously easy ones, but still!).  Towards the end of the day, I even purposefully aimed for a lump on the hill, caught some air, and landed successfully.  No big deal, no fear.  No thought of what would have happened if, instead of landing successfully, I had wiped out.  A few years later, I went skiing again and gingerly inched down the slopes, desperately slowing myself when I got too fast.  I remember wondering why I was scared this time when I distinctly remembered not being intimidated at all a few years earlier.  That was when I realized I had lost my childhood fearlessness… or maybe just my childhood confidence.

It still comes back at times, usually when I have no idea what I’m getting into.

For instance, in college, I started thinking about switching from competing in the heptathlon to running the steeplechase because I just could not master the form required for the field events.  (I just ended up quitting track entirely instead…)  My coach wanted to see what my initial form over the water steeple looked like, so he told me to give it a shot.

“Now, this is new, so don’t get frustrated by how it goes the first time,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, while thinking, This is easy. It’s just hurdle… I’ve done it a million times.

(Just a side note—going over the steeple is a little different than going over a hurdle because you, you know, step on it and launch yourself over a pit of water.)

So I ran up to the steeple, pushed off the top of it, and landed easily with one foot in the water and my next step taking me back up to the dry track.

“Like that?” I asked.

“Yeah, that was pretty much it exactly,” said my coach, visibly shocked.

I had a similar experience with my half Ironman.  I decided I wanted to do a triathlon, so I signed up for a local sprint triathlon with a pool swim that actually took place the day before the other two legs.  I rode my hybrid commuter bike in my running clothes and running shoes (it’s still my fastest T2 time to date!).

I liked training for it, so I decided I wanted to be a triathlete and signed up for the Boise 70.3 coming up the next year. I got a road bike in January and raced in June.  The race was my first open water start and only my second open water swim with other people.  I was essentially brand new to endurance athletics.  But I trained and put the time in and didn’t know enough to really realize I was doing something that most members of triathlon forums across the web would consider less-than-ideal.

And you know what?  I finished the race with a time of 6:05:44, eating trail mix and Pop Tarts on the bike and running my first couple miles off the bike way too fast.  Not bad at all for a first half Ironman, especially considering how new it all was to me.  The whole training cycle, I was certain I would finish the race if I put the work in.  I didn’t even realize that what I was doing was a pretty big deal.

I didn’t have that same advantage going into the training cycle for a full Ironman.  I was well aware that an Ironman is a Scary Thing.  I’d seen in on TV and read about it online.  It is Intimidating and Epic.  It is a bucket-list item, and for us mere mortals, a Challenge more than a Race.  People crawl across the finish line because they are too depleted to even stand.

Needless to say, my confidence during this training cycle has been nothing like it was when I was training for my first half Ironman.  I’ve been scared about finishing the race, about over-biking, about bonking on the run, about the whole thing.  The refrain playing over and over in my head has been, “What if…?”

Now, caution is great.  I’m a big fan of caution.  And the fearlessness of kids doesn’t lend itself well to distance running.  Anyone who has ever lined up at the front of a 5k start with a bunch of ten year olds that, upon hearing the starting gun, sprint as fast as they can for as long as they can (generally, about a quarter of a mile) knows that complete fearlessness can backfire.  I still have a very conservative race plan because, in the Ironman, running a conservative race is far and away the best strategy for a first timer.

But I have caution in droves, and a lack of it has never been my problem.

It’s the presence of fear and a lack of confidence that has tended to hold me back.

So as I finish this taper and toe the line at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in a few weeks, I’m going to try to channel some of that child-like fearlessness.  I’m going to try to compete with the confidence of someone who is ready and has no doubts that the task at hand is achievable.

I’m going to try to create that same mindset that propelled me over that steeple with ease—the same mindset that allowed me to see a bump on the hill in front me and decide that if I hit it, I could fly.

Okay, so maybe I was only figuratively taking flight during my 70.3…


Weekly Recap (8/08-8/14)

Monday: Swim—2500 yards; Bike—1:01:21 (17.21 miles); Strength—15 minutes
Because the pool was closed for repair, the Masters group met at a local outdoor pool instead.  Swimming outside was absolutely wonderful.  It was a bit chilly Monday morning, so the pool water felt warm.  And welcoming the sunrise in the pool is a wonderful thing.  I swam the workout hard, so even though it was relatively low yardage, it was tough:
300 swim
200 kick
100 pull
4 x 50 (10-kick barrel roll)
4 x 50 (closed fist)
50 easy
4 x (4 x 25 strong kick
2 x 50 focusing on push-off
100 fast)
250 easy
I noticed that I finished this workout about the same time as the really fast woman in the lane next to me.  I suspect she was still swimming faster, but perhaps she took a little more time between the four main sets of the workout.  I considered this a big win in the pool, and I felt justified in being totally gassed at the end of each set.

After work, I headed out on a short bike ride.  I’ve read that during taper, you should lower the time and up the intensity, and since my training plan seems to follow that advice (this ride included a 40 minute tempo section in the middle), I have been trying to keep my workouts more intense than normal.  Because of that, I rode fairly hard.  I tried to keep my tempo up and power up hills a little more than usual.  I ended up having a strong ride and averaging close to 17mph.  After my ride, I did some strength work.

Tuesday: Strength—15 minutes; 8-minute abs
Tuesday was a very welcome almost-rest day.  I slept in until 6:00am and did my strength and core work during lunch at work.  After work, Rob and I went over to his parents’ house and played with their adorable and crazy new puppy.  I did some laundry and some cleaning as well.  Overall, it was a very productive day of rest.

Wednesday: Run—40:00 (4.88 miles); 8-minute abs
Man, I am loving taper!  On Wednesday, I did a short run with some strides thrown in.  I tried to take it a bit faster than my normal “cruise” pace, but I wasn’t supposed to push this run too hard.  I ended up finishing this run with an 8:12/mile pace.  It was a solid effort, but I didn’t struggle during it.  It was also surprisingly cool during this run.  I was actually a bit chilly going out in my tank top at 7:00am.  The running temperature was just perfect, and it was a welcome change to feel a little bit cold upon first stepping out the door.  In the evening, I did some core work.

Thursday: Bike—1:30:00 (26.11 miles)
The workout on Thursday was a ladder on the bike where I increased and then decreased the effort over the course of 90 minutes.  The breakdown was as follows:
10:00 @ RPE2
15:00 @ RPE5
40:00 @ RPE7
15:00 @ RPE5
10:00 @ RPE2
I rode hard, and I was surprised at how good I felt, considering the early morning.  With the help of decent conditions (the headwind at the Point of the Mountain was no more than a pleasant breeze), I demolished my best time so far for this particular route to work.  I managed to average 17.4mph, even with a little headwind and a net elevation gain.  This ride gave me hope for future triathlon seasons.  If I can hold 17.4mph on that route on a training day for an hour and a half, I can train to ride that speed for longer (say, 56 miles… not that that particular distance has been on my mind lately…).  It was a nice little pick-me-up to start the day.

Friday: Rest
I wrapped things up at work on Friday—last day of work before the Ironman!  I had a fairly relaxing evening and watched Stardust with Rob for the first time ever… how I went so long without seeing it I’ll never know.  On the workout front, it was a complete rest day.  The nerves have really been ramping up this week, so while the rest is nice, it doesn’t help much with the nerves.

Saturday: Swim—45:13; Bike—1:56:58 (35.21 miles); Strength—15 minutes
I had a really great plan for my work out on Saturday.  I drove up to Bountiful Pond for some open water swimming and brought my bike with me to ride afterwards.  I was going to ride three hours, end up back at my car, and drive home.  The swim went well.  I felt strong and smooth in the water, even if my goggles did keep fogging up.  After my swim, I got my bike put together and headed out on my ride.  It was still fairly early, so the first fifteen minutes or so was cold.  It’s something to remember for race day.  I was a bit tight at first (again, cold!), but I loosened up and was feeling strong and enjoying the ride.  It was flat, so I was going fast.  And then, almost two hours in, I felt the suspicious sluggish feeling that every cyclist hates.  I looked at my back tire and saw I had a flat tire.  And then when I stopped, I saw I had a goat head in my front tire as well and that it was losing air.  Here’s the thing—I only had one spare tube with me.  Rob was helping his aunt move, so I had trouble getting a hold of him which led to me just calling him over and over again until he happened to be in the same room as his phone.  The whole fiasco cost me a bunch of time, and since I had other things to do that day as well, I stopped my work out there with the intent to make up that final hour the next day.  I did some strength work in the afternoon as well.

Throwback to the last time I visited Bountiful Pond because I forgot to take a picture. 🙂

Sunday: Bike—1:01:34 (16.9 miles); Run—1:34:37 (10.89 miles); 8-minute abs
I got up early and did an hour on the bike in the morning.  It was typical, and nothing stands out, except that it was actually a little cold in the morning—a sign of the coming fall!  Afterwards, I did my run.  I started off strong, but apparently, I faded a bit on the second half.  I think I may have started out a bit too fast up the first hill, and I also didn’t have any mile markers to track my pace on the second half of my run.  I was a little bummed out that I only hit an 8:41/mile pace, but it is what it is.  It was still a strong run, and I felt good at the end.  Since my IM pace is at least :30/mile slower than the pace I ran today, I’m trying not to let it bother me at all. I did some core work in the afternoon—my last core work before the Ironman!

Highs and lows of Ironman training

I’ve been training with an Ironman in mind for about a year now, and race day is almost upon me.  I shy away from using words like “journey” or “adventure” for the things that I do (if I ever have to destroy a ring or kill a dragon, I’ll start).  But it’s certainly been an experience.  Training for an Ironman is by far the most physically taxing thing I’ve done in my life.  And, like anything tough, it’s had its ups and downs.  There have been times when I have felt like I’m on top of the world.  And then there have been the times when I break into tears for no real reason.

These moments obviously stand out, and I can recall several of each on a moments notice.

The highs

Coming in as the second woman overall in a local sprint triathlon.

Taking well over a minute off my 1000 yard time trial.  I’m not sure exactly where I was a year ago, but I think I was somewhere north of 17 minutes.  A month or so ago, I did 1000 yards in 15:24.

PRing in every leg of my Olympic triathlon.  By a lot.

Going for a 17.7 mile run and a long swim on the same day and still getting antsy enough to go for a walk in the evening.  Long runs that were 15+ miles used to wipe me out completely for the whole day.  Now, they’re rather pedestrian.

Taking in the beautiful views of Utah, whether that be on the bike or on the run.

Feeling excited to be on my bike riding at mile 101 during my first 100+ mile training ride. (That’s not to say I felt amazing at every mile before that, but it was a great way to learn that I can be sick of the bike and then get over that and be excited about it again.)

Finishing peak week, the one I couldn’t look at when I first started training because I thought there was no way I could possibly do all that.

Completing my 2-3 hour long runs with no IT band pain whatsoever.

On my way to a massive PR!

The lows

Getting my bike and car stolen in one fell swoop.

Sitting on the side of the road crying because my IT band pain was too bad to finish running home.

Failing to hit my marathon goals rather spectacularly.

Getting hopelessly lost on the way to and home from work when I decided to commute by bike.

Having an emotional breakdown on the train on the way to work because I thought the title for my wrecked car was lost in the mail.

Crashing on the bike and spending the next three weeks gingerly favoring a nasty contusion on my upper thigh.

Every single part of my body aching around mile 80 of my long training rides.

Riding 35 miles home against the wind and completely demoralized.

Aftermath of the bike crash.

These high and low moments stand out in training, but this collection of moments doesn’t really relay what Ironman training is like.  Most of it is neither demoralizing nor inspiring.  Like anything in life, it’s rather pedestrian.  Putting in the time and effort becomes the new normal and simply becomes another part of your routine.

And, while the moments of either extreme are the ones that stick out, they aren’t the important part of Ironman training.  It’s the consistency that matters.  And while a stellar sessions stands out and boosts your confidence, what matters when tracking your progress is how a perfectly average training session goes the first month into the training cycle compared to how a perfectly training sessions goes during the peak of your training.

Earlier this week, I was looking through some old blog posts.  I saw that I mentioned doing a swim workout of 10 x 100 @1:50.  I described a workout that was exhausting and absolutely pushed me to my limits.  And I realized that now, I can do a set of 10 x 100 @1:40 without much trouble at all.  I’ve even started to wonder if I could manage a set of 10 x 100 @1:35.  I’ve seen similar improvements in my running and cycling over the past year.  And it was every moment in my training that helped me make that progress.  It was the breakout sessions.  It was the workouts where I just felt flat but worked hard anyway.  It was the times that I stepped out the door even though I was tired and frustrated.  It was the times I realized that my body truly needed rest and I took a session easier than initially planned.

The workouts and moments that stand out are the ones that are both easiest to remember and ripest for inspiration.  I use the memories of good workouts to inspire myself and memories of hard ones to remind myself that I can keep going.  But really, the daily grind is where the magic happens.

Injury prevention.
Trainer rides.
Track repeats in the snow.
Consistency is where the magic happens.

Weekly Recap (8/01-8/07)

Monday: Swim—3000 yards; Strength—15 minutes; 8-minute abs
I went to Masters swim team in the morning.  We did a distance day which was probably good for me.  It was one of those workouts that looked easier on the board than it ended up being which is really the best of both worlds.  I get the physical benefit of a hard workout with the mental anguish of seeing what looks like an impossible set written up on the board:
500 swim
300 kick
4 x 50 (distance per stroke)
50 (closed fist)
3 x (100 build
200 pace
300 form)
150 easy
I always do the pace intervals faster than I should.  Every time I think, “Hey, I’ll just practice my Ironman pace!  That’ll be easy!” And then I end up practicing a way faster pace.  This time, I was probably swimming at my 1000 yard pace.  Still, that made the workout tough, and tough workouts are a good thing.  I had a surprisingly busy evening after work.  I had to go pick up a few things at the grocery store and go get my bike adjusted a bit.  After that, I squeezed in some strength and core work, ate dinner, went home, showered, got everything ready for the next day and then collapsed into bed, pretty exhausted.

Tuesday: Swim—3000 yards; Bike—2:00.05 (36.16 miles); 8-minute abs
I had another early morning at the pool.  I did some longer, low-intensity sets.  Despite the fact that it was my fourth day in the water in a row, I felt fairly strong throughout the workout.
2 x 250
3 x 750 (12:40, 12:28, 12:21)
2 x 125
I swam my main set at pretty much an even effort, so I suspect the slightly slower time for the first 750 is because I wasn’t really warmed up yet.  I felt like I was just cruising even though my pace was around 1:40/100yds.  A year ago, I never would have thought that pace could feel easy and sustainable for me.  Heck, even a couple of months ago, I didn’t think I could hold 1:40/100 over a set of ten 100s.  (I totally could, but I was still so used to my previous times that I didn’t think I could.)

I rode home from work.  I took the multi-use trail instead of the roads to avoid rush hour traffic.  I also hoped the trail would be a little cooler because it was in the mid-90s when I left.  Fortunately, the heat kept the trail pretty empty, and some clouds rolled in not long into my ride and kept the sun from beating down on me.  It was a surprisingly pleasant ride.  My water got warm but not hot.  I didn’t get overheated on the bike.  And it had been a while since I rode that path, so it was nice to get back on it.  I was also flying.  The ride back from work has a net elevation loss, and I think I had a light tailwind for most of the ride, so I was cruising.  I worked pretty hard as well, trying to keep the pace up.  I ended up averaging over 18mph on this ride, which is the fastest I’ve ever gone on a ride that long.  When I got home, I did some core work before heading off to bed.

Wednesday: Bike—1:32:10 (25.38 miles); Run—1:00:00 (7.27 miles)
In the morning, I headed off to work on my bike.  Because this ride was supposed to be shorter, I took the roads to work instead of the path.  I ride to work so early that traffic is never an issue.  Of course, going to work has a net elevation gain, so the ride wasn’t nearly as fast.  In addition, I had a stiff headwind climbing over the Point of the Mountain.  However, instead of just hating my life today, I acknowledged that there is a very real possibility I will be climbing into the wind at Coeur d’Alene and welcomed the chance to practice in race conditions.  I still managed to have a fairly strong ride, especially considering I worked pretty hard on Tuesday.

My run after work was not nearly as encouraging.  It was hot outside, though less so than it has been recently at 91°.  Instead of doing a few flat and mostly shaded loops around the park, I decided to do my “regular” hour long route with more climbing, more asphalt, and less shade.  I was hydrated, but I still struggled.  I think the process of driving home with no air conditioning wipes me out.  About half way through my run, I stopped at a water fountain and covered my face, neck, and arms with water.  I couldn’t believe what a difference it made (for, you know, three minutes).  But I pushed through the run and ended up finishing with an 8:22/mile pace.  It took a while for me to recover, though.  After downing two bottles of water (I think I have a drinking problem…), I took a shower and then had to sit around for another hour or so until I felt up to eating.

Thursday: Strength—30 minutes; 8-minute abs
I had a very light day on Thursday, and my body appreciated it.  I slept in (until nearly 6:00am!) and just did some strength and core work during lunch.  I returned to my longer strength routine this week because I had the extra time.  I was surprised at how good it felt considering I’ve been doing lighter strength work for the past few weeks.

Friday: REST
Come Friday, I was surprised at how sore I was from my strength work the day before.  I am always a little sore after my longer strength routine, but my time off from the (relatively) more intense exercises killed me.  I was waddling around all day.  I made the executive decision to only do lighter strength work next week and to abstain from my strength work for the entire week before the Ironman.  There’s no sense in risking unnecessary soreness or muscle fatigue when I won’t be gaining any extra strength in a week anyway.

Saturday: Bike—4:04:37 (68.98 miles); Run—20:00 (2.27 miles)
I woke up still embarrassingly sore from my strength work on Thursday, and I headed out not long after waking up and before I had a chance to work out the stiffness from my legs.  As such, the first half of the ride was a bit of a struggle.  I wasn’t exactly sure where my legs were, and I started to worry that my last long ride before the race was going to be very discouraging.  However, partway through, I started feeling better.  My only guess is that my legs started to warm up and stretch out.  I felt quite strong the last half of the ride, and I ended up averaging 16.9mph over course of the ride when I had guessed I’d average around 16.5mph.  I made sure to ride a relatively hilly route as well, covering around 88% of the elevation gain in Coeur d’Alene in about 62% of the distance.  After hopping off my bike, I threw on my running shoes for a quick transition run.  I felt great on the run and, for the first time in months, actually accidentally went significantly too fast, hitting an 8:48/mile pace instead of the 9:15-9:30/mile pace I try to run off the bike.  The shorter workout was quite nice, and I got to spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering (and watching the Olympics).

Sunday: Bike—1:00:18 (16.14 miles); Run—2:00:00 (13.44 miles); Strength—15 minutes
I didn’t know what to expect for my short bike, long run brick on Sunday.  I was doing the workout from Rob’s parents’ house because I was puppy-sitting for them, so my routes would be different than usual.  Plus, I stayed up way too late watching the Olympics, and the puppy ended up getting me up a little earlier than planned.  In other words, I didn’t obsess about this workout beforehand.  I got on the bike a little later than planned, but it went relatively well.  It was slow (uphill) to start and fast (downhill) to finish.  I had a fairly quick transition and headed out for my run.  The first four miles of my run were uphill, and then I ran downhill back and added on some distance going the other direction after passing Rob’s parents’ house.  I mapped out my general route, but I didn’t take note of any mile markers or pace checks, so I was just running by feel.  However, based on what I did see when I mapped out the course, I thought I was running relatively slow, somewhere between a 9:30-9:50/mile pace.  I wasn’t sure why I didn’t have more energy, but since this was a run based on effort, I didn’t push too hard, despite what I thought was a slower pace.  I just accepted that I felt more fatigued than I expected and went with it.  However, once I got back and mapped out my exact route, I found out I had run longer and faster than I thought and had finished my run with about an 8:56/mile pace.  With the hills, my ride yesterday, and a bike ride before the run, I was very excited about running that pace (though I will need to make sure not to go out that fast during the race!).  Later on in the afternoon, I did some light strength work.

I know I always post photos of the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, but it’s always so pretty!

The Iron Partner

There is an oft-forgotten hero in many Ironman sagas.

This person sacrifices movie nights, relaxed weekend brunches, and any hope of having dinner made for them without any of the social media bragging rights that come with long training rides and hard runs.  They give up a normal life for months, all culminating in a day that is nearly as hard as an Ironman race, but without any of the glory or accolades that come from being pronounced an Ironman.  They make all these sacrifices with no prospect of personal gain and for the sole purpose of seeing someone that they cares about achieve a personal milestone.

This person is the Iron Partner.

These Iron Partners often do not receive nearly enough credit in the triathlon world.  For every Ironman, there is someone who helped make it happen, whether that be a significant other, a parent, a child, a roommate, or a close friend.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.  And tensions can sometimes run high during peak weeks.  There’s a joke in long distance triathlon that if you’re still married at the end of your training cycle, you didn’t train hard enough.  Relationships have ended over triathlon, which goes to show you just how hard Ironman training can be on the would-be Ironman’s closest supporters.

For the Ironman—Make time for your support system.  Be willing to inconvenience yourself to participate in things that matter to members of your support system.  You are busy training, but make an effort to carve out time for your loved one(s).  For me, this has meant doing things like skipping church one Sunday to go see a movie with Rob or taking him out to breakfast that one time I didn’t have a long ride or run on a weekend morning.  He’s making a lot of sacrifices for me without asking for anything in return, so I’ve tried to make sure I don’t totally neglect him.

For the Iron Partner—Be honest about your needs.  There is a lot of power in the words, “This is really important to me.”  These words should neither be avoided nor overused.  A few weeks ago, I was stressing over a wedding in Rob’s family that I was going to have to go to.  Rob saw I was stressed and told me I didn’t need to go… it wasn’t that important to him.  So I stayed home that evening instead (and I needed it!).  When he says that something is important to him (or, more likely, when I know it’s important even though he hasn’t said it outright), I make an effort to be there for him.

For the Ironman—Give your partner time to shine.  Don’t put your support system in the position of constantly supporting your goals.  If that means not doing an Ironman every year or only doing one Ironman, then so be it.  It’s different for every relationship, and there aren’t hard-and-fast rules.  But if you look back over the past 2-3 years and see that you have not been an equal partner for most of it, you might have a problem.

For the Iron Partner—Don’t pick up big, hairy goals during the Ironman training cycle.  This is dependent on the tip for the Ironman above.  If your Ironman is not constantly enmeshed in an intense, life-consuming training cycle, then time your own big goals so that they don’t conflict with your Ironman’s training.  For instance, now would not be the time for Rob to apply to grad school or move to a new state.  This kind of scheduling isn’t always possible, but if those types of things are on the table, I think it’s best to wait a bit so that your Ironman can take a turn offering you the support you need.

For the Ironman—Try not to be too crazy.  I know it’s hard.  I know Ironman consumes your life.  But set some boundaries for yourself.  This has the added benefit of letting your support system know what to expect.  For instance, try to take at least one evening off a week.  Or set a limit as to how early you will wake up (mine is 4:00am for training… I refuse to set my alarm earlier than that unless I’m racing).  Or set up other boundaries.  Whatever works for your situation.

For the Iron Partner—Try to adapt to your Ironman’s schedule.  Well, somewhat.  You don’t need to get up at 4:00am.  But recently, Rob shifted a bit closer to my schedule and started cycling in the mornings.  Even though we don’t live together, this has still been really helpful.  We typically eat dinner and spend the evening together, so now that he goes to bed earlier, he tends to be ready for dinner around the same time I am (i.e. early).  I can go over to his place early on a weekend and enjoy some coffee with him on the porch before heading off on my long ride.  He goes to bed not long after I leave in the evening, so he’s not spending evenings alone with nothing to do.

For the Ironman—Realize when you are being ridiculous. For me, it was when I decided I just wasn’t going to eat dinner because I didn’t think salad (the menu item for the night) had enough calories, I was too tired to make something for myself, and I didn’t feel like eating “snacks,” as I put it.  The second I started saying these things, it hit me that it was completely over-the-top and ridiculous.  And I apologized profusely and made fun of myself mid-breakdown.  This kept the situation from actually getting heated.  I was hangry, I knew I was hangry, and Rob knew I knew I was hangry.

For the Iron Partner—Let your partner be ridiculous (sometimes).  I mean, obviously, if I were having breakdowns over dinner every day, there would be a problem.  But in this case, Rob could tell I was tired and worn down and overwhelmed, even if I wasn’t quite able to articulate that.  So, he finished eating his salad and then just went out and bought me KFC (I had been craving fried chicken for months).  This little gesture made my day and clearly meant a lot to me since I’m still mentioning it now.  Which leads me to…

For the Ironman—Be grateful.  Don’t forget the sacrifices that your support system is making to help make it easier for you to achieve this dream of yours.

For the Iron Partner—Be patient.  Your would-be Ironman is tired and exhausted and likely not always thinking clearly (see above).  If they were a kind, considerate partner before Ironman training, be willing to forgive a few peak week snafus.

Training for an Ironman isn’t easy.  And supporting someone who is training for an Ironman isn’t always easy either.  I’m lucky that Rob is supportive and is totally on board with the whole Ironman thing (though he has said wistfully, “I can’t wait until this is over…” several times).  Though there have been moments of tension (usually stemming from my tendency to catastrophize when I’m tired or overwhelmed), it’s mostly been smooth sailing… which is mostly due to Rob’s patience and understanding.

So here’s to Iron Partners everywhere, and here’s to mine!