Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Rocks

Appendicitis. A 3rd degree sunburn from trying out my IM race kit. A monster cold 1.5 weeks out. A bug infestation that left me with itchy boob-like mounds all over my body. It seemed a higher power was trying to tell me something. But it must not have been that I shouldn't do Ironman Coeur d'Alene--the race was perfect.

Well, almost perfect.

It might thunderstorm! The water is frigid! The bike course is hilly! You might get attacked by a deer!

The strange things that people think about just before an Ironman are, in the words of Chaz Michael Michaels, bind-bottling. The day before the race, I heard it was supposed to rain right up until 5am on race day, so I outfitted Stealth Pinky (my bike) in a chic get-up of black trash bags (reminiscent of what Tilda Swinton wore to the Oscars...ok not so chic), rolled the top of my transition bags over so their contents wouldn't get soaked, then went on my merry way to stuff myself with whatever carbs I wanted.

I was excited. Nothing could deter me from having a killer day. After all I'd recently been through, a deer knocking me over on my bike and frozen solid phalanges could only add more comedy to the epic ride that was Ironman Coeur d’Alene training. And I didn’t have my “lady friend” like my best IM buddy (bless her evil uterus), which would’ve been cause for hysterics. And my husband was doing it with me as his first Ironman. That’s right, coachubby trained me and all of my friends for this race while still an Ironvirgin.

The Swim

Ironman Coeur D'Alene swim

The water temperature was a reported 59.5 degrees on race day--fudged a half-degree by the merciful race director so cold-wusses like me could still legally wear our swim booties.

The water felt good. The sun was shining. The beach was covered in bright pink and blue-capped competitors, which was a super-awesome cap color choice, indeed, after the brain fart at IMAZ last year in which the women had lake-colored caps, and the corner buoys were black.

The cannon went off and the race began! I swam with all my might to try to get out ahead of the crowd, but to no avail. Pretty shortly, I realized that the entire race had been staged to kill me. People had paid their entry fees to engage in some kind of sick Idaho-ian drowning ritual in which one unsuspecting young victim gets sent out into a cold lake, then the other participants try to swim on top of her, splash water down her throat, punch her in the face, kick her in the gut, grope her, and see how long it takes until she sinks to the bottom.

Little did they all know I have a great aversion to dying and will try not to at all costs. So I took a stroke, then doggie paddled to get air and to find holes in the enemy ranks. I did this over and over and over again until I reached the first turn-around where people started to spread out and I realized that most of them had given up on trying to knock me out. I’m a swimmer. I’m a swimmer. I’m a swimmer. My form came back to me and I cruised along. But the damage was already done. I noted the clock time coming out of the swim and was bummed. How had I gone so slowly? Ah yes, I didn’t swim the first quarter of the course; people were trying to kill me.

No matter. One of the coolest things about Ironman came just seconds later: wetsuit strippers. I ran over to one, leapt onto my butt, stuck my feet in the air and watched that sucker fly off. Then into the women’s change tent where I got 3 personal volunteers. I didn’t want to leave, it was so cool. Two of them held out my arm warmers, so I slid my arms right on in, while one of them put my race belt on me and off I ran in full Triathlete Diva glory—pink arm warmers, a Triathlete Diva jersey, and black socks that say “Foxy” on them in pink.

The Bike

Ironman Coeur D'Alene bike

I grabbed Pinky from her rack, and the bike began. I quickly came upon another girl in my age group. Heck no will she beat me! We traded positions for a while, then I let her go ahead, thinking I’d keep her in my sights, and she’d forget I was stalking her after a while. One problem: it’s hard to stalk people in a hot-pink flambĂ© jersey, and hot-pink arm warmers. She was a bit stealthier and I lost sight of her after a while. But she had made me push the first 20 miles of the bike more than I thought I would, and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Then I forgot all about it because I had to pee.

Where are the porta potties! Bahhh! I don’t see them anywhere. Just then, a woman in the 30-35 age group passes me, then slows way down and lets it flow.

“Darn it! I need to do that so bad!” I tell her.

“Just let it go, honey! I had to give it 2 solid efforts before I got it out.”

That’s it. I’m not stopping for no stinkin’ porta potty. If that woman can pee herself in front of me and hundreds of spectators, so can I. I pedal hard, coast, then let it flow, making sure my parents and my host family are not in view.

The hills come, and I dominate them. Take that hill #1! And that hill#s2,3,4,5,bazillion! A sign on hill number gagillion says, “#246, how’s your butt feelin’ now!” Mine feels like it is ready to model a bikini in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

After riding up enough short climbs to eliminate my butt altogether, a kind volunteer informs me that “it’s all downhill from here”. That is, until you come around for a second lap of bum and thigh sculpting. And while the ride back to Coeur d’Alene was pretty much all downhill, the wind picked up and made it quite a challenging little section of the course, where lesser human beings (probably the ones who signed up to kill me in the swim) succumbed to drafting.

The ride was so fun, everyone decided to do the bike course again. And while a few people ate pavement big time, I came off the bike relatively unscathed—I had an ultra-sore back and a mission to hunt down the two other girls in my age group who had passed me in the last 12 miles. I didn’t ride with them, because my race mantra was “just chill” as in “don’t go all out now then ruin your run” even though, in retrospect, staying with them at that point would’ve been a good idea.

A friendly volunteer took Pinky from me and I bolted through the women’s change tent, where I had something like 20 personal volunteers (there was nobody else racing in there), and sprang out onto the run course holding two “Just Plain” PowerGels and the fantasy of running a sub-4 hour marathon—with no watch or anything to pace myself other than intuition.

The Run

I had to run that fast if I was going to beat my time from IMAZ last year—my CDA swim was infinitely slower, and my bike was just fast enough to make up for my stupid swim, so now it was all up to my run to get me a PR. No pressure.

Now was not the time to dwell on my size 11, flat, overpronating feet and the 2 lbs of arch support in each of my shoes. I once read that Julie Ertel has the same kind of feet, and she’s lightening fast. So I will be too.

I chugged Gatorade at every station, made an attempt to down a gel every 3 miles, and took salt pills whenever the mood struck. For the first four miles, I thought my lower back was trying to secede from my body. That’s what I get for trying to swim heads up for half a mile. I ignored it.

The crowd was amazing. People everywhere, cheering for everyone. I got a lot of compliments on my jersey, which made me feel like a rock star. I was going to kick this marathon’s behind. Just then, a girl with a 23 on her leg and a pace like a gazelle leapt by me. There was no way I could stay on her. “Just chill, Erin” go your own pace. Keep running. Just chill.

At mile 13, I was feeling pretty good. Much better after a porta potty stop. I kept downing gels and was megahappy that I could, given that at IMAZ last year, I couldn’t eat a thing—my stomach was jacked up beyond belief. I passed the girl who I had tried to hang with early on the bike, upping my happiness by a factor of ginormosity.

Then the pain set in. Super pain. This is where it’s all mental. I had 8 miles to go. I tried some Coke and found it was most splendiferous. It was my new special treat. Instead of hunting down the at least 3 girls I knew were ahead of me in my age group, I had to change my game plan. The new mantra: DON’T WALK! I don’t care how slow you run, you are not allowed to walk. You didn’t walk last time. This is the RUN course, not the walk course. Triathlon is swim, bike, RUN. So, run, darn it! Don’t walk. Don’t walk. Jog it in, Erin. Jog it in.

I got to see all of my friends (I believe there were at least 15 of us in the race!) because the course was all out-and-back. That was super neat. I would not let them see me walk. If I walk, I loose. I want to win.

Finally, I turn the corner down the straight road to the finish. I see it. What does the time say? It’s too far away to tell. I think it says 11 something. Whoopee! I hear my parents and coachubby’s parents and our friends cheering. Holy goodness, the finish isn’t getting any closer. Bah! The black thing I thought was the finish wasn’t—I still have a few yards to go.

Wah hah! I did it! I finished! I didn’t walk! I beat my old time by a solid 24 minutes!

The Aftermath

Ironman Coeur D'Alene end

The race doctor looks at me and asks if I’m ok.

“That hurt,” says I gleefully.

My own personal finish line volunteer hands me a medal, cap, space blanket, t-shirt, water, then asks me what I want. I have no idea what I want. What I’ve wanted for the past 7 months (besides to have a kick-ass wedding in March) was to finish this race. I just did. I have no other goals at this very moment. I don’t know! What do I want!?

“A massage? Food?” she asks.


“Ok, massage it is.”

How beautiful! They have free massages! I make it a point to not mention how many times I peed myself during the race to the kind massage volunteers. I am in awe of their ability to withstand putrid smells and germ phobia.

Coachubby finds me and informs me that he finished super wicked fast. Like in the top 3 percent. Like his finishing time was on the first page of results fast. Geez. I am briefly jealous of our future children’s genes.

I get the freezies. I make a space blanket outfit complete with skirt and cape and march over to the results. I made it onto the podium! Whoopee! My run was close to four hours, and my swim did, indeed, stink just as much as I had suspected.

My amazingly supportive and totally rad parents hug me, tell me they’re proud, then suggest I shower so I don’t smell like a sweaty porta john.

I do so, and contemplate how totally amazing the entire day was. The weather was absolutely perfect. I actually enjoyed the water temperature. The bike and run were picturesque. And the communities of Coeur d’Alene and Hayden Lake are bodacious. Everyone was out cheering. Every billboard in town said “Welcome Ironmen!”, and the towns themselves are stunningly gorgeous—a welcome break from the urban sprawl and the egos that make up LA.

I would like to do Ironman Coeur d’Alene again, but perhaps next year, I’ll be seeing you in Lake Placid?



PS. More photos coming soon!

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