... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ironman Coeur D'Alene: Part 1 (Pre-Race)

It has been a week now since I crossed the finish line at Coeur D'Alene and officially became an Ironman. I've spent those days resting, eating, and mulling over the race and everything it took to get there, and I'm finally ready to try and write my race report. I'm dividing this race report into two parts: the week leading up to the race including our trip over and race prep, and the actual race itself. This is Part 1.

Getting our bike ride done one way or another!
We arrived in Coeur D'Alene (hence to be referred to as CDA in this post) a week early, after stopping in Edmonds, Washington for two days on the way. This little interim time was such a blessing after the previous 8 months of intense training and time management leaving us very little down time. Since we were already in taper our workouts were shorter than they had been in 6 months and removing ourselves from the responsibilities of our jobs forced us to take down time we had almost forgotten could exist. While we were in Edmonds we had one 2.5-hour bike ride but since we didn't have our bikes we ended up running to a local gym and spending two and a half bizarre hours pedaling away on stationary bikes. It was pretty miserable until I figured out I could watch Kona videos on YouTube! When we were done we ran back to my in-laws' house. On Sunday before flying out we did a one hour run along the Pacific Northwest waterfront and spent most of the time marveling at the cool temperatures and lack of humidity. It was fun to smell the sea air, look at all the different vegetation (evergreens! Holly!), and me being me I even picked some blackberries!

Before we knew it we were back at the airport, ready to travel to our final destination. Arriving at the Spokane airport on Sunday afternoon, we picked up our rental car and drove to CDA to check it out, then back to Post Falls to check into the VRBO rental we would be staying in for the first half of the week. It was a cute little place with a nice owner and adorable gigantic labradoodle named Sam who loped around the grounds and greeted us whenever we went outside. Our next step was to get dinner and groceries, and much as we meant to continue our extremely regimented healthy eating we got so excited about all the dining options available that we ended up at Cracker Barrel. I split the difference by ordering pot roast instead of the buttermilk fried chicken and green beans instead of mac and cheese. However, I did get the fried apples and I enjoyed every bite.

In shock over produce prices
Next up was grocery shopping, and because it happened to be right next door to Cracker Barrel we went to check out WinCo, which turned out to be an amazing Mecca of absurdly good prices that blew our Hawaii-dwelling minds. Strawberries that would have been $5.99 in Hawaii were $1.98. Blueberries were $2.98 instead of $6.99. Eggs were $3.48 instead of $7.49, bread that I usually pay $8.99 for was $4.69, and don't even get me started on milk! I wish we had a video of me in the produce section. I got so excited every time I'd look at another price, it was like Christmas morning over and over again! We may have gone a little crazy, purchasing enough food to last a small army several weeks, all for less than our normal grocery bill would have been. Our fridge looked like it was stocked for a family of ten. 

Beautiful Coeur D'Alene
After a semi successful night of sleep (jet lag!) we got up on Monday excited to be there and ready to explore. The solar eclipse was happening around 11am, so we hung around the house until then before going on the 30 minute run that was on the schedule. The next door neighbor even gave us some eclipse glasses to use. Our run that day was really fun and beautiful, starting at a park downtown and running along the lake and past North Idaho State College. The weather was gorgeous (and cool!) and the scenery was beautiful and so different from what we're used to seeing in Hawaii. I have driven past/through Coeur D'Alene many times traveling from Montana to Washington, but it was wonderful to stay there for a while! It is a really great little town, with everything you could want close by and truly spectacular scenery and surroundings. Even us spoiled Hawaii residents were impressed. That night we watched the sun set over the lake and mountains from the roof deck of the Coeur D'Alene Resort Hotel, feeling truly relaxed at last. 

Our wetsuit removal specialist in action! Thanks Mom!
On Tuesday my mom arrived from Missoula to stay with us for a night. The majority of the time we just explored the area and relaxed, but we were able to pick up our bikes (two small scratches on the frame but otherwise unscathed), go for a brief ride, and try out wetsuits in the water for the first time. Both the ride and the swim were somewhat dubious efforts that left me feeling a little nervous. We chose to take off on the bikes along highway 95, part of the race course, accidentally choosing the section containing the largest, longest hill on the course. Because the highway wasn't closed yet, we rode on a shoulder so full of gravel it felt more like mountain biking than road biking and had the bejeezes scared out of us over and over by semi trucks with huge trailers thundering by us at 60mph. It was a less than pleasant ride, and struck a little fear into my heart. The swim was not much better. We made the mistake of not putting our wetsuits on until we were outside in the sun, and the sweat on our skin made the already difficult task nearly impossible. After struggling for 15 minutes, I finally got mine on and we headed down to the water at a little beach called Sanders. Sean reached inside his suit to adjust it and spent the next 3 minutes trying to get his hand back out. We were out of breath from laughing before we even started swimming! 

The swim itself was okay -- the water was clear and I even saw four fish!m. However, between the constriction of the wetsuit and the chill of the water I got extremely claustrophobic the moment I put my face in the water. I basically choked and panicked my way through a 40-minute swim and got out of the water seriously concerned that the swim, usually my strongest discipline, might end up being a nightmare. Luckily I couldn't spend much time dwelling on these thoughts because we had to get the wetsuits back off, another lengthy task resulting in a lot of laughter and providing much needed levity. My mom pulled with all her might and finally we were free! 

After eating and dropping the bikes off at the house, we decided to drive the highway 95 portion of the course so that we had a mental picture going in. While I suppose our thinking was correct and overall it probably was a good thing overall, this drive left all of us in the car with a quiet, ominous feeling. The route was somewhat akin to going over a mountain pass. Hill after hill after hill, and long hills at that. The miles seemed to drag on and on as we waited in vain to see a flat portion of the course, getting more nervous with every minute. No one had much to say as we headed back into town, all trying to wrap our heads around what this meant for our first attempt at 112 miles. I knew going in that the bike course had 6000 feet of elevation gain; I just hadn't been prepared for what that actually looks like!

Headed to one of our last taper workouts!
The next day's workouts went much more smoothly. We headed out to the other portion of the course, this one following the lakeside trail instead of going up into the mountains, and here we found all the other (smarter?) athletes getting their last few workouts in. First we ran 50 minutes on what would turn out to be a major portion of the run course, and we were pleased to find that along with great views of the lake, it boasted very few hills. Then we hopped on our bikes and rode the opposite direction to the turnaround of the 1st bike loop. I felt much more at ease after this and even jumped in the lake afterward to cool off! 

My mom left that afternoon, to return on Saturday, and Sean and I enjoyed a relaxing evening alone -- the calm before the storm. 

Checked in and ready to go
Thursday got off to a strange start for me. The prior morning I had woken up with swollen lymph nodes in my neck, and had been concerned that maybe I was fighting off a cold. Thursday morning clarified the situation -- a huge, angry bump/zit/boil had appeared on my scalp behind my ear and it was so tender and painful that it made the whole right side of my head and neck stiff and sore. This was the first outward sign that although consciously I was feeling good, there was some internal stress happening that my body was reacting to. Sean's parents were arriving that day and we were "moving in" with them, so we checked out of our house in Post Falls and went down to Ironman Village to go to Athlete Check In. It was fun seeing all the tents and booths set up, and we felt like rockstars arriving. It really started to feel real as we entered the check in tent -- no escaping now! The volunteers were amazing. We picked up our packets, swag (awesome backpack!), and got our wristbands -- one general participant wristband and one "first-timer" wristband which lets everyone know it's your first Ironman and assures you many "congratulations," "good lucks," and well wishes -- then ran a few errands around town, feeling excited.  

Sean's parents arrived at lunch time. Their rental house was absolutely beautiful and perfectly located just steps from Ironman Village and the race start in a cute neighborhood bordered on two sides by the park and the lake. 

About this time my body took the next step in its little rebellion, my head and sinuses getting stuffy and making me feel a general sense of malaise. As the day continued I was actually starting to feel very nervous and jittery, more in a physical sense than an emotional one. Panicking that I might be getting sick, I started researching doing an Ironman with a cold and quickly found that what I was experiencing is not uncommon among Ironman athletes. It's called the "Phantom Cold," and the symptoms really are just a physical manifestation of inner nervousness. This made me feel better emotionally better even if my body continued to protest. The rest of the day my head felt strange and uncomfortable but I did my best to ignore it. When I mentioned it to Sean he said he also felt "off," and when we consulted our training schedule even it said that three days out from the race was a common time to feel "out of sorts." We suffered through a short swim, still struggling with our wetsuits but at least enjoying the lake.

Last swim... "wetsuit Barbie"
I went to bed still feeling jittery, and hour after hour passed as I laid there in the dark, feeling anxious. I got up over and over to use the bathroom (clearly I was pre-hydrating effectively for the race!), each time expecting that when I got back into bed I would be able to fall asleep, but I had no such luck. It was only once light was starting to creep back into the room, probably around 6am, that I was finally able to shed whatever was keeping my mind going and get a little sleep. Awesome. 
Night before...

Friday Sean's sister and her significant other arrived, and we attended our athlete meeting. It was our last complete rest day with no workouts, so we tried to really focus on relaxing. After my sleepless night I did manage to get a good nap in, but I still felt somewhat "off" for most of the day. 

On Saturday, after a good night of sleep, I was pretty much back to normal and was starting to feel really excited about the race. We finished packing our gear bags, gave our bikes a last once-over, and dropped them off at bike check-in. My mom, sister, brother, two nieces, and my best friend and her husband all arrived in town and much as I was concerned that I would be feeling antisocial, it was great to see them. Sean and I did one last swim, which felt great and truly put my mind at ease about how I would do with the wetsuit, and then gathered with everyone for a wonderful night-before-the-race dinner. (They had pasta, me and my sensitive stomach had rice, zucchini, and chicken.) It was very relaxing and so nice to see everyone! We were in bed by 9, and after a few hours of lying in a happy awake state I actually drifted off and slept for at least 4-5 hours! A successful pre-race week, in my book.  

See Part 2: Ironman Coeur D'Alene Race Report - Race Day to continue...

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