It has already been a little over a week since I lined up with athletes from all over the world to race the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene, but I’m still basking in the afterglow. I can’t believe that between pregnancy and parenthood, it has been nearly two years since my last triathlon. Although I felt a little rusty and would have liked more time to practice transitions and do more open water swims, I was feeling confident and excited to toe the water of my first race of the season. If you would have asked me a few weeks ago what my plan was for this race, I probably would have eagerly provided a list of 10 goals in order of importance. That’s just the way my mind works when it comes to working hard toward any big event.
But after getting hit by a car while riding my bike less than two weeks before the race my goals became a little less finite. As I was lying in the ambulance, I remember thinking to myself, “I guess I won’t be racing next weekend.” Well that, and telling one of the (cute) paramedics that I wasn’t wearing any underwear when he mentioned the fact they would probably have to cut off my cycling kit. Knowing that my body was beat up, my psyche was muddled, and my tt bike was totaled, I thought it would take a while to pick back up and feel like myself again.
But then something happened when I walked out of the emergency room with only road rash, bruises, achy muscles, and a bag of shredded cycling clothes. I began to think of the possibilities. Maybe I could actually pull this off. Maybe I could get back on a bike and face the fear of being on the road. Maybe my body would bounce back. Maybe I can get another bike quickly. As all these ‘maybes’ began to spring around in my head, I realized I was given another chance. No major injuries. Not at fault. And loads of support and encouragement from everyone around me. Even if I did not have a single goal or expectation going into this race, I would still get to race.
With my Ironman only eight weeks away, I knew I needed to get a long course race under my belt early in the season, and the 70.3 distance in Coeur d’Alene would give me the perfect opportunity to preview the course for the full Ironman (this really is the perfect combo for anyone considering). As usual, my coach did a great job of providing encouragement and hope when I was feeling down about my crash, and gave me the push I needed to get back on the bike quickly and without fear. Better sooner than later, he said. My husband was also extremely supportive and helpful, cleaning and bandaging my wounds, assisting me with the bike buying process, and helping out with Axel so I could prep for the race. We truly make a good team.
The week leading up to the race was a whirlwind and good reminder that triathlon is anything but an individual sport. It took an army of people to get me back in the game and race ready. I would not have stepped foot in Lake Coeur d’Alene without the endless support of those around me. I was able to purchase a new bike and have it two–day shipped to The Hub Cyclery, where Matt (one of the owners) graciously spent the next two days building it up and getting it ready to race. I was also able to get a bike fit from Bart and Cody at Bowen Performance to assure I would be as comfortable, powerful, and aerodynamic as possible on the bike. All of these people went above the call of duty and made time in their schedules to assure that I would have a bike to race with on Sunday. They made this possible. A friend and fellow athlete, Hans, also hooked me up with a great hydration system using his TorHans aero products. These products are absolutely amazing and some of the most aerodynamic on the market.
I ended up purchasing the Felt IA 2 and was able to ride it a total of 20 easy miles in the two days before the race. It is completely different from my Cervelo P3 and will take some time getting used to, but I’m already in love. The biggest difference is the Di2 shifting (set up on both my aero bars and on the bullhorns near my brakes) and the more aggressive position. The bike itself is amazing and gives me a sense that I am floating above the pavement.
So, with a new bike, second chance, and new attitude, it was off to CdA for my first triathlon not only of the season but of almost two years. Time to put months and months of hard work to the test.
This was the first year Ironman offered the 70.3 distance course in Coeur d’Alene, so it was fun being a part of the inaugural event. The town of CdA is absolutely beautiful and the people truly embrace the athletes and welcome them with open arms. The hospitality was second to none.
We arrived to CdA on Thursday and met up with Justin’s mom who drove in from Seattle to spend the weekend with us and visit her grandson. She was a HUGE help all weekend long and I felt as though the entire stay would not have gone as smoothly without her support. We spent Friday and Saturday hanging out, engaging in pre-race festivities, previewing the course, and visiting with friends. My mom and step-dad also arrived in town the night before the race and we visited with them briefly before heading to bed. Before I knew it the time had passed and it was the morning of the race!
The swim was a rectangular out and back loop in Lake Coeur d’Alene. This lake is notorious for choppy water and white caps, but we somehow got lucky and had smooth water on race day. Until you have 3,000 athletes stirring it up, that is. This was my first time experiencing a self-seeded rolling start, which I quite enjoyed because I was able to position myself in a corral based on my expected swim time, and everyone eased into the water in a semi-single file line. My coach wanted me to start with a group a couple minutes ahead of my goal time, which helped because ultimately I finished the swim with a PR.
The first half of the swim was pretty mellow (did I just say that?) as I stayed just inside the buoy line and did my own thing away from the masses. There was a little more chaos during the home stretch as people were bunching up, but I still maintained my groove and remained calm. I did experience some bad cramping in my calf and hamstring, but didn’t have a choice but to shrug it off and continue on. By the way, why do I have to cramp during EVERY open water swim?
Once I was out of the water it took me a second to find my balance. “YES! The hard part is over,” I thought to myself. After sprinting up the beach it was a long run on the hard pavement (ouch!) to my transition area, which made for a long transition time. As I started taking off my wetsuit, the muscles in both my legs completely seized and cramped, and it felt as though I could not move. I tried to keep calm and stretch them out while leaning on a tree that was next to my transition area (I knew that tree was put there for a reason other than to get in my way), but I couldn’t help but think about trying to bike and run when my legs were already giving me issues. I came THIS close to quitting right there, but instead chose to take a couple of deep breaths and continue on.
The bike course was rather hilly, which caters perfectly to my strengths. I enjoy climbing and descending, which comprises a majority of the course. Most of the climbs were fairly short (3-4 miles) and not steep at all. I actually felt as though there were a lot of false flats throughout the course. Although I probably could have pushed a litter harder to meet my 2:35 bike split goal, I was really trying to stay at 85% power and leave some juice in the tank for the run. Coach’s orders. And, I’m glad I listened. He is probably reading this right now, with a big grin on his face and thinking, “see what happens when you stick to the plan.”
There are three significant climbs on the bike, which also means there are some really fun descents. I have no fear of going fast on the downhill during a race and tried to be really aggressive when gravity was on my side. I do wish there would have been a little more space for riders to pass on the downhill, because as I would approach riders who were riding at a slower pace, not every rider was all the way over to the right like they should have been. I had to use my brakes and yell a few times, which was rather frustrating. I wish everyone would just stay over UNLESS passing. Ooof.
Bike: 2:40:49 (20.9mph)
When I finished the bike leg I was feeling pretty good. I did a good job eating and drinking consistently throughout the ride and was sure to take a GU Roctane moments before the dismount. Again, the transition took some time, as I had to run my bike quite a ways before reaching my T2 area, which was close to the run out area. As I took off my bike shoes and slid on my Hokas (I only run in Hokas now, by the way → officially converted) my left leg got a monster cramp that crept up my calf and into my hamstring. What the heck is going on today!? Body, please don’t fail me now – I’ve still got a half marathon to get through. Once again thoughts of quitting entered my head as I started running toward the crowd of people that lined the course through the park, but then a huge smile emerged on my face as I saw my husband, mom and step-dad. Keep going.
The first mile is always the hardest for me as I shake out the bike legs and settle into the run, but I think the long run from the bike dismount to my transition area actually helped me prepare for it. I felt as though I was running a 10min/mile pace, even though my pace for the first mile was 7:27.
After sipping some water at mile 2, the liquids started to slosh around in my stomach and throat, and were not getting absorbed at all. A few minutes after taking in water I threw up (while running) but kept going. At the next aid station I tried Gatorade. Nope. Threw up again. And then again. When I saw my coach at mile 6 I told him what was going on and in true Mike Larsen fashion he said “So what? You are currently in 5th place. Keep moving and go catch the girl in the orange socks.” before suggesting that I start drinking Coke – so I did. That seemed to help, although the coke was really warm. Not to be picky, but is a nice ice-cold coke during a half Ironman too much to ask? Cue sarcasm.
The run course is two flat loops that venture through McEuen Park, around a cute neighborhood, and along the lake. It is great for spectators as they can easily see athletes multiple times. As I ventured onto the second loop I could feel the muscles in my legs starting to cramp. Honestly, I was a real mess at this point but kept my composure, as panicking would get me absolutely nowhere. I was discouraged by the fact that I had so much more in the tank but my muscles would start to tighten and cramp when I pushed harder. So, I was forced to settle in at a 7:45-8min/mile pace, finding the sweet spot where my muscles would not spaz on me. I’ve already received a lot of questions about my cramping and I believe it was a combination of dehydration (magnified by the vomiting) and not taking in enough salt. I need to start training with salt tablets ASAP or I will not survive the Ironman.
By the time I reached mile 12, I could sense the excitement building inside of me. All I wanted to do was sprint out of joy, but knew that I needed to be smart and just keep everything steady. The home stretch to the finish was unlike any I have ever experienced. People upon people upon people lined the street, and I literally lost the sound of my breathing and thoughts to the noise and cheers of the crowd. It was literally one of the most breathtaking moments of my life. I don’t think there is any other race experience like running through the roaring crowd down Sherman Ave and seeing that Ironman finishing chute get closer and closer. Just magical.
Run: 1:42:53 (7:52 min/mile)
Final: 5:12:10 (3rd AG)
When I finished all I could do was smile at the volunteers and thank everyone around me. I quickly spotted my husband and gave him a sweaty kiss. We both had tears in our eyes and I was so glad he could experience that moment with me.
The guys that I train with, Adrian and Michael, had also finished around that time (Adrian actually crossed the line right in front of me) and we were all able to celebrate and get a finisher photo together. Michael finished 2nd in his AG and Adrian had a huge PR. It was all around success.
My coach was also there and I immediately started crying when I saw him – just filled with so much gratitude for how hard he has pushed me this season and knowing that it paid off big time.
And then the news came – I had finished 3rd in my age group. What the what??? Me? I was 52nd in my AG coming out of the water, and made up a lot of ground on the bike to move up to 5th place heading into the run, but at the very best I was just hoping to hold on and make it up on the podium in 5th place. But somehow I managed to pass two girls on the run and push my way into 3rd. I was, and still am, shocked!
After cooling down and taking a few post-race photos with my coach, teammates, and family, Justin and I made our way back to our rental house to clean up and check out before returning for the award ceremony. Axel was a little trooper as we dragged him around and kept him up past his normal nap time (he later slept really well in the car as we drove part of the way home that evening). When the award ceremony started, I was completely humbled by all of the talented athletes around me. Standing on that stage was truly a dream come true, and the realization of something I had envisioned since starting this journey back in November when I was still only two months removed from childbirth. I will never forget that experience, or the people who helped me get there.
This was by far one of the most spectated events I have ever been a part of, which is pretty incredible for a town on only 44,000 people. I am the type of person that thrives off the energy of the crowd, so that made a huge difference in my race. Having the chance to preview pretty much the entire course has me beyond excited to return to Coeur d’Alene in less than 7 weeks to see what I can do in my first FULL Ironman. Hopefully the circumstances leading up to that race will be less chaotic than this one, and the experience under my belt will pay off when I do it again on August 21!