It was my third time returning to the lovely little town of Coeur d’Alene for the Ironman race. In 2012, we had a high of 71 degrees and I remember a lot of folks being too cold out of the swim to get on their bikes right away! In 2015, it was 105 degrees! It was miserable!
Surely, 2021 would be juustttttt right…..right?
Alas, this is not a Goldilocks story, but rather a story that shows that sometimes lightning can strike twice. I won’t focus on weather as the main part of the story, but, when it’s 100 degrees for an ironman, that is going to be a major factor at play!
Despite the forecast though, I was really excited to be traveling for a race again and heading out West. Ironing out travel logistics from a corner of the country was a new hurdle, and evidenced by the fact I sat in the wrong seat TWICE on my way out there I was definitely a little rusty.
Patient Passenger: ma’am, you’re in my seat.
Me: Oh no, I have 22D….
Patient Passenger: Ummm yes….this is 20D.
Me: <face palm emoji> It was like I have never flown in a plane before!
But, I arrived in CDA and things were just as hippie-quaint as I remembered. I probably should have given myself an extra day pre-race in town, because things were a little more hectic than I generally prefer before a race, but it was really fun to catch up with friends and be back doing all the pre-race stuff. I also had the opportunity to be featured on an episode of “A Fighting Chance” that Ironman created – you can watch that here.
Going into this race, I felt like I had pretty solid fitness. This race was a late addition to the pro calendar, and it wasn’t until April 5th when I e-mailed Hillary to ask her what she thought about me adding that in before IM Lake Placid. We both knew my run fitness would be a wild card, but felt like I was swimming and riding well, so it would be a good opportunity before LP to bust some rust. So….here we are.
Race start was a funny time. And not just because it was 5am and we had all been awake since like 2am. There were some women there who I have never raced with, but a core majority of the women are some that I have been racing with since our amateur days. It was a little bittersweet as we caught up and eye rolled at ourselves for “still doing this crazy stuff” – ha! But it was also comforting to still be racing with these women. There’s a certain kind of respect that emerges for those who have weathered what Ironman brings you year after year. Physically, mentally, and emotionally – it’s a hard sport to come back to. Even though we may only see each other a few times a year, there is an unspoken bond of respect, admiration and support for the long haulers, and I that helped to really calm my nerves before the swim.
Speaking of the swim: FOLKS! I am not sure who missed the memo, but this race involves a 2.4 mile swim and there is zero need for aggression out there. I don’t know if people were antsy or what after not having raced in awhile, but it was crazy out there and I was happy when we hit the first turn buoy and people didn’t know where to go, so I could just move to the front and be out of the mess!
Mid way through the second loop as I was navigating through all the age group swimmers I was told wouldn’t be started ahead of our second loop (ahem), I felt…..sweaty. Like, I was somehow sweating through my wetsuit. It also kind of felt like my energy drained from me. It wasn’t fun, but I was still in contact with a few from my group, so I just figured I wasn’t quite in my best swim fitness yet and soldiered on.
Within the first few miles of the bike I knew it was going to be a long ride. The people who came out of the swim with me were riding away from me, and a glance at my computer was showing less than desirable numbers. Ugh. And so we begin a very, very long 112 miles. The temperatures were now rising, and I knew things were going to get very real over the next few hours. I was getting by okay, ignoring the feelings of riding backwards in the field and just focusing on staying aero and making the most of what I could out of what I did have on the day…..and then, I got a flat. Oof. But, no problem, and I had the tube swapped in 5 minutes and was putting the cartridge on, twisting it to break the seal….and POP. This little rubber insert in my inflator blew right out of the inflator. Ugh. Now I was really screwed.
A random guy yelled to me as he rode by me and I was standing in open pavement swarmed by bees in 100 degree heat; he said: don’t let this end your day! Thanks, random man. Do YOU have a backup inflator and cartridge on you? Ha!
Alas, my day wasn’t over at that point. A really, really kind guy who was out spectating on the course helped me out and rode up the road to let race staff know I needed aid. Eventually they came down with a pump (thank you also to the man who did stop and offered me his extra flat kit). And I was back on the road 20 minutes later.
Coming into T2 in 5:59, I was actually kind of impressed with myself. A ride of 5:39 with an average of 150 watts (typically I ride 200 for IM rides!) was actually way faster than I expected to have, and I owe that to a great bike fit by Todd Kenyon, and many miles spent chasing Matt around on the roads that have forced me to learn to ride as aerodynamically as I can.
I was though, the last bike to enter T2. I took my time getting cool and ready to run, and set off for a marathon journey with a shred of hope. When conditions are THIS bad, carnage is inevitable, and perhaps, just maybe, I could run my way into a decent placing after all.
I had some good miles, then some questionable miles, and then some rough miles towards the end. Carnage did happen, but it wasn’t enough to buoy me beyond 14th place, which honestly feels like a pretty fair placing for the day I had anyway. It definitely reminded me that running a marathon in 100 degree heat is not my jam.
I’ve fielded some questions about CDA and heard feedback that people were impressed I finished the race. I’ve had plenty of time to think about that and to tell you the truth, not finishing just was never an option – it never really is – when I’m just doing poorly on the day.
My reasons for this vary – from not wanting to drop because I knew that meant I wouldn’t enjoy the recovery week that awaited me, to the strong belief that a competition shouldn’t only be finished on your best days. I am a younger sister, and I have a lot of memories of starting games and competitions with my older sister, only to have her quit the game when she started to lose to me. Perhaps it is these memories that instilled in me this stubbornness that I will always keep me running on the hard days, out of respect for my competitors, and I will finish the game or the race even when I am far behind. If I have the opportunity to showcase the lesson of finishing what you started, making the most of the day ahead of you, and embracing the privilege of racing – I will.
I recently was watching some random YouTube video and there was a monologue about dreams and why endurance athletes do the things they do. There was the line that “dreams throw you into experience, and experience is progress.” It’s no secret that since I started racing pro 8 years ago, I’ve had the dream of being on a podium. Several top-5 finishes under my belt, and the dream remains. But this quote articulates an important part of why I keep racing for this goal, no matter what: Experience is progress. Progress as an athlete, as a coach, as a human being. And that is something I value more than my PTO ranking, which plummeted 83 spots by virtue of me not dropping out of the race, ha!
All in all, in the days since the race, I have tried to remain realistic and objective about my performance. With another race on the horizon there is no time for wallowing in my misery. Objectively, I knew that racing in CDA was a crap shoot when we added it to the schedule. I also know that it was just simply a bad day on the bike – my bike fitness didn’t magically disappear on a plane from Boston to Spokane. It was though, a much needed reality check about how hard Ironman is! In the last 15 months, I think I was starting to forget the mental space you need to be willing to go in to have a good day and race with the best.
This post also wouldn’t be complete with a shoutout to my co-host and friend, Haley Chura, who was 4th in the race and perhaps in the bigger feat of physical endurance, also stuck around after she finished to record the IronWomen Podcast with me. You can listen to this very special episode here.
Onto Lake Placid, which now counts as a “hometown” race for me as I am the self appointed Queen of the Adirondacks 😉 Here we go!