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.