A week ago Sunday I took a trip down memory lane and competed at Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene. Though I know the course well, having done both the half and full distances in 2016, each race has it’s own personality and qualities that make it unique. The elements of the day, unexpected challenges, highs and lows, and people there to support can change the dynamics of any race day. My experience this year was a lot different compared to last year, as I came prepared and ready to tackle some pretty lofty goals that would far surpass my performance in 2016.
I traveled to Coeur d’Alene with Justin and Axel, and we stayed at a nice condo within 3 blocks of the finish line, which could not have been more convenient on race day. VRBO and AirBnB owners are notorious for price gouging during the Ironman events, so it was refreshing to find a close place for a very reasonable price. Justin’s mom, Mary, drove over from Seattle and joined us for the weekend to visit and spend time with Axel, which was beyond helpful.
The pre-race festivities were pretty much cookie cutter from what I am used to. Walk around the village. Pick up race packet and swag. Do a little shopping. Take pictures. I was trying to get a photo with Axel so I could do a side-by-side comparison one year apart, but Axel wasn’t having it at the time. Thankfully, Linsey Corbin stopped to talk and we got a photo together. She went on to take 3rd overall female. Such a badass.
After a shakeout run, ride, and swim in the days leading up to the race, I was feeling very eager to get into race mode and put months of hard work to the test.
Two years in a row now the water has been near perfect for the swim. No wind + very little ripples = happy triathletes. I self seeded myself for the rolling start with my friend Meg among the sea of pink and green caps, and we chatted and smiled until we reached the water. I was actually pretty pumped to get going. I must say that while I like the calmness of the self-seeded start, I’m not sure how I feel about it throughout the race. Because the other girls in my age group are all starting at random times, it’s hard to tell how you are doing while out on the course. Am I in 3rd? Am I in 9th? Who knows!
While the swim felt fine and I exited the water with no major leg cramps (what?) I swam two minutes slower than last year. The bonus → wetsuit strippers. Not a lot of the 70.3 races have wetsuit strippers, which was a real treat. Thank you to the big strong guy for whipping off my wetsuit in record time. I see you’ve done this before… wink wink.
Transition was pretty uneventful. Based on my races last year I was given All World Athlete status for 2017, which meant I had a great spot in transition right next to the Bike Out. I’d rather run through transition without my bike than with it any day! I busted out a fast run to my area, gathered the goods, and was off to power my way to what would hopefully be a bike PR.
I really do enjoy the CdA bike course as it has a lot of challenges that play well to my strengths – hills, wind, and heat. The course does a smaller out and back within town, and then a large 40-mile out and back outside of town. Typically, riders can expect wind during the ride, and for the past two years there has been a tailwind out and a headwind back.
Unfortunately, I realized very early on in my ride that my power meter was having connectivity issues with my Garmin, and kept bouncing back and forth between actual power and zero data. This was throwing off my average power and intensity factor, the numbers I focus on the most, so I decided to completely ignore the data and go by heart rate, perceived effort, and overall feel. Thankfully, I am pretty in tune with my body while riding a bike and knew how to push it just at the sweet spot without burning myself out for the run. Honestly, I felt amazing on the bike and spun my way to a time that was 7 minutes faster than last year. That provided me with some mental gold before hopping off and starting the run.
As soon as I dismounted the bike, I ran to my transition area and quickly pulled together the essentials for my run. Unfortunately, I had to make an unwanted stop at the porta potty due to Aunt Flo paying me a visit the night before. I had never raced a triathlon during my period before and while I really did not think about it too much, it did cost me a couple minutes in transition due to taking care of “things.”
The first mile off the bike always reminds me of a blind date. You just never know what to expect or how you are going to feel, but you anticipate it nonetheless. My coach’s voice was in my head with a reminder to stay calm and not go out too hard, which I managed to do successfully.
It took about three miles to find my groove, after a brief scare during mile 2 when I felt a big knot form in my right hamstring. As any runner knows, as soon as the body starts cramping it can make for a very long and painful day. To save my race, I decided to stop (the first time I have ever stopped during a race) and stretch it out. I also busted out the base salt and was vigilant about my nutrition and hydration from that point forward. It was a hot run from the get-go, but the wonderful people of Coeur d’Alene know the way to an athlete’s heart with their sprinklers and hoses. I made sure to cool off whenever possible and poured plenty of ice water over my head throughout the run. The hamstring cramp never did return, though I did experience some period cramps, which were a little more tolerable.
At about mile 3, a guy ran up next to me, settled in at my pace, and made a comment that he was probably not going to be able pass me (damn right!). I told him that we should run together to keep our spirits up. And so, for a majority of the run leg, we paced each other, talked occasionally, and encouraged each other to keep pushing forward. Our conversation eventually led us to discover that I grew up in the same town and went to school with his wife and brother-in-law. What a small world! It was such a game changer to have someone to run with, talk to, and distract my mind from the pain and heat of the race. When you are running on your own during a race, it can be really easy for the mind to wander and drift off to low and dark places. Running with Cory helped me stay positive and kept my mind off the tweaks and cramps that my body was experiencing from time to time. We eventually parted ways near the last two miles when my legs wouldn’t turn over any faster and I could see that he was ready to fly. It was his first Ironman 70.3 distance and he absolutely crushed it!
The last mile of the run in Coeur d’Alene is absolutely inspiring, as you weave through the city park lined with cheering spectators and then make your way to the long and straight finish down Sherman Ave., where there are huge crowds of people lining on both sides of the street. I was able to pick up the pace that last mile and enjoyed the encouragement and smiles from all the people around me. As always, I got emotional when entering the finishing chute and began to feel overcome with that deep-down raw joy that only happens through hard work and accomplishment. I had finished the race 8 minutes faster than the year prior, with faster splits on both the bike and run (plus faster transitions), and felt really good about the effort I left out on the course.
Final: 5:04:21 (6th AG)
It was a little bittersweet missing the podium by one place. Last year I finished 3rd in my AG, but I have since aged up to the F 35-39 AG which seems full of experienced and uber competitive athletes. As my coach reminded me, it’s not always about the podium but the effort you give during the race. I really had no complaints about my effort and performance (aside from my swim) and was happy to walk away with my fastest Ironman 70.3 time to date! You just never know who is going to show up and race alongside you and this year my age group was stacked with amazingly fast women. Once again, I’m realizing more and more how important it will be for me to improve my swim time if I am going to be a podium contender. I’ll get there…