Less than 3 weeks to go until Ironman Coeur d’Alene. After finishing Ironman CdA 70.3 several weeks ago, I really started to wrap my head around the magnitude of this race. I never mentioned it in my race recap, but during the second mile of the half marathon I pretty much convinced myself that I was going to back out of the full Ironman. There were several moments on the course when I hit those “lows” and doubted my ability to double the distance. Even after I finished the race I was questioning my sanity and whether or not I wanted to go through with such a monster of a race. Now that time has passed and I am taking my training to new heights, these feelings have since subsided and I am enthusiastic about continuing my journey to 140.6 miles in Coeur d’Alene.
This year has been a whirlwind of emotions and change, but the one thing that has remained consistent and focused is my determination to cross the finish line of my first Ironman. I have worked SO incredibly hard, every day, every week, since starting this journey in November. I can still remember the first time I got back on my bike after my pregnancy, barely making it 12 miles in an hour, and feeling as though I could not go another foot forward. Heck, I almost called my husband and had him come pick me up because I wasn’t sure if I would make it up a small but steep hill that leads back to our house. And my first run out the door, averaging 11min/mile and feeling as though my lungs were going to explode. The progress I have seen in my fitness this year is unbelievable and I never would have thought I’d be where I am today. Now that the final weeks are upon me I wanted to reflect on what this entire experience has been like and where I am at mentally and physically as I enter into the final weeks before the race.
The biggest lesson I have learned this year is to live in the moment and ENJOY the moment. I simply could not train, work, and be a mom effectively if my mind was in other places all the time and I couldn’t just be in the moment. So, when I am training, I enjoy it and focus on the work that is laid out on my schedule. When I am working at home I get into a zone and rid myself of distractions. When I’m with Axel, I try to be focused primarily on him, even though there are times when I have to multi-task and keep up with laundry, dishes, or other random chores around the house as well. Living in the moment allows me to juggle the different dynamics that each of these roles carries.
The experience has also been one of self-discovery and growth. I am amazed that all this time, effort, energy during the last 7months of training has been invested for one day. One race. One single event in my life. People always tell me it’s the journey and training they enjoy most, not the race itself. I completely understand why. And while I am looking forward to the race, I really do appreciate and savor the time I am out pedaling my bike or pounding the pavement in my Hokas. That’s my “me” time where I get to collect my thoughts, release my stress, and learn more about myself each day.
My confidence was shifted in a more positive direction this past weekend after attending a 4-day training camp with my coach and a few other athletes. A small group of us traveled up to the Coeur d’Alene area and stayed at a lake house owned by my friend and Bend teammate Michael. My coach, Mike, another friend and athlete, Mickey, and I drove up to house on Thursday morning to meet up with Michael and his wife Mary for the start of training camp. This was my last “big” week of training before slowly tapering to the race, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to completely focus and go all in on my workouts.
After arriving to camp on Thursday afternoon, we set out for a 40-minute swim in Spirit Lake, followed by a hilly and hot 6 mile run along a curvy shaded road from the lake house. It was nice to shake out the legs after being in a car all morning. Unfortunately, my coach broke his collarbone a couple weeks ago during a mountain bike race, and could not partake in most of the activities, but he did hop on a jet ski while we were swimming and made waves so we could get a feel for a little chaos in the water. He also carried fuel and food while riding a mountain bike next to us as we all ran. And took a lot of picture. Best coach ever.
That evening we enjoyed a chicken and vegetable dinner, paired with some good Walla Walla wine that I brought from home, and took an evening boat ride out on the lake. Michael’s wife Mary was is an amazing cook and always had food waiting for us when we would return back to the house each day. I was SO incredibly thankful for all the time she took preparing meals and making sure our bellies were full each night.
On Friday we woke up and started the day with an 80-minute swim, before heading out on our bikes for an epic 112-mile ride from the house to the top of Schweitzer Mountain and back. It was hot from the get go, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, and the winds were whipping in various directions.
I have done some hard rides but this was, without question, the hardest ride I have ever done. Not just because of the distance, which was also the furthest I have ever ridden, but the temperatures (and wind) made for some major suffering. But that was what we were there to do. Suffer. And if it’s an inferno on race day, like last year, I want to at least know I can survive.
The road to Sandpoint was really pretty as we passed by the countryside and various bodies of water. It was pretty iffy at one point when we had to ride on the shoulder of a highway into Sandpoint, but then we merged onto a bike path and did not have to deal with any more cars.
Climbing up Schweitzer Mountain 40 miles into the ride was tough. I remember telling my coach, as he jumped on his bike and rode with us for the climb (yes, with a broken collarbone) that I might call it a day and jump in the car when we come back down. But I never did. It would have been so easy to get into the car, sit in the breeze of the air conditioner, and sip on a nice cold drink. But easy isn’t going to get me stronger. Easy might get me to the starting line, but it’s not going to get me to the finish line.
The last 20 miles were actually my strongest as I helped pull the group back home. It felt really good to contribute my efforts and repay the others for all the pulling and support they had provided to me earlier in the ride. It amazes me how every athlete goes through mental and physical ebbs and flows throughout a workout. We all had our moments to shine – I’m just glad mine came at the end.
The following day we woke up and headed straight to Coeur d’Alene to ride the Ironman course and do a short run off the bike. I honestly was quite scared about doing another long ride after completing the colossal ride the day before, but sucked it up and trusted in my strength, and coach. Our goal was to do two loops of the course, excluding 20 miles that weave through town in an out and back.
It was a super windy day and we had a nasty headwind for half of the ride – which also meant we got to reap the benefits of a tailwind as well. Wind is the one element that can mentally shut me down, so it was good to battle through conditions that are likely to appear on race day.
After completing the 92-mile ride on the course, we all took off and ran the first 5 miles of the run course loop. I felt surprisingly good and was able to maintain an 8 min/mile average pace. The more I run off the bike and build that muscle memory, the more confident I become in my ability to settle into a strong run on race day.
On our final day of camp, we started the day with a 30-minute swim and then drove back into Coeur d’Alene to run two loops of the three-loop run course. With fatigue and soreness settling in, I knew this run would be a good indicator of how things might feel on race day. Once we got started, Mickey and I quickly settled in at a comfortable 8 min/mile pace for the first loop, and Michael was only seconds behind. Mike was on his mountain bike riding next to us, offering drinks and food a long the way, which significantly helped.
On the second loop, we picked up the pace and tried to push it on hills and through the streets of the town. During the last two miles, we pushed it as hard as we could, finishing the 16-mile run in a little over 2 hours. I was STOKED to finish as strong as I did, and to know I could do it after the days of swimming, biking, running, and fatigue. It was at that moment when I realized that I was ready to do an Ironman.
The biggest lesson I took away from the entire weekend was the importance of nutrition prior to the race, and while out on the bike and run. Nutrition can make or break an athlete. And although I hissed at my coach a few times when he yelled at me to drink and eat, it became very clear to me that this is something I need to work on and nail down before the race. I have a feeling that my intake of calories, liquid, and salt is going to be reflected in my performance, especially the salt if it is a hot day. My new favorite drink is tailwind endurance fuel (hello salt!) and I always enjoy munching on bloks and gummies that are stuffed into my bento box.
I have never done a training camp with other athletes before, but I must say it gave me a huge boost in confidence and was just what I needed mentally and physically as I prepare to take on my first Ironman. The entire experience was great, and although it was tough to be away from Justin and Axel for four days (the longest I have been away from Axel since he was born), I really got a lot out of training with others that I would not have been able to do on my own. You can learn so much about yourself and this sport when you surround yourself with likeminded people who are willing to share their experiences and be supportive along the way.
These four days away from home, surrounded by other hardworking athletes, really allowed me to visualize myself completing this race. My mindset shifted from “I think I can do an Ironman” to a mentality of “I know I can do an Ironman – and do it well – if all the pieces fall together on race day.” And you know what? I am still having fun, which is incredibly important to me as I take time away from my family and home. If I were not having fun, none of this would be worth it.
On that note, is it August 21 yet?