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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.