Ironman Coeur d’ Alene, 2023
I should say from the outset, before I launch into a long winded explanation of why I DNF’d, that I actually met nearly all of my goals for signing up for this race.
We needed a long term goal to get us back to something of a pre-pandemic life. 2018 Santa Rosa was such a bad time for me–bad attitude during training and a bad attitude during the race–that I really wanted to have fun with triathlon again. I wanted to train hard, but also enjoy it. I wanted to go into the race with a sense of calm, determination, and gratitude. And honestly, I think I did achieve that.
Race week was really nice and dare I say it, like a vacation. I was not stressed out at all (ok a little stressed about the hot weather), I had friends racing, we stayed at a lovely place within walking distance to a really nice beach where we swam three times before race day. It was pretty ideal (except the night before the actual race, unfortunately). So when I’m feeling really down on myself for giving up, I have to remember all those really good moments, for months, that led up to this race.
The (fateful) night before
Like I said, I had slept well all week and wasn’t even nervous. I was in a really good head space, and we swam every day that we were there, along with getting in 2 bike rides. We didn’t bother with any running.
Typically the night before a race, we have a “super recovery” drink, which is a thick disgusting drink of glucose and protein. I mixed up a double dose of the recovery drink from Tailwind at around 8pm and went to bed an hour later. However, the sheer amount of sugar in the drink kept me awake for hours, despite actually being tired. I would have actually fallen asleep at 9pm had I not had that damn drink–I was jolted awake the moment I started falling sleep by a fast beating heart, and I felt like I had a fever, I was running so hot. I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight, for a 3:30am wake up. I’m fairly certain that this was the domino that caused everything else to collapse.
Lesson: No super recovery, I cannot take that much sugar before bed
The morning of
I felt horrible when I woke up. I was hoping that a week of restful sleeps would carry me through, but that just wasn’t the case. My stomach felt extremely bad; I could not drink my second cup of coffee, which is frankly unheard of. I wound up drinking mint tea to try to quell the unease, which helped, but I barely touched my breakfast. I almost kept vomiting all morning.
Everything else in the morning was smooth. DJ’s friend Chris drove us to the start at 4:55am (before the road closures) for a 6:30am start, and while we were pretty early, it was nice to have extra time in case of a tire or other last minute issue. At the last minute, I decided to put a dry bottle of tailwind in the bike special needs, which I wound up taking. After I got everything ready for the race, I started getting hungry since I hardly ate that morning (and probably burned off all the sugar of the recovery drink at night), so I ate a banana at around 5:45am. I was getting semi hungry again while waiting in line at the swim start, but I didn’t have anything with me. I wished I had had at least a disposable water bottle.
We had the opportunity to briefly get in the water before the start, so I did a quick tip, mostly to wet my goggles. The water was in the mid 60s, which was delightful, especially with the sleeveless wetsuit.
I went easy almost the entire swim, totally laser focused on form. I only had 1 elbow to the face, which filled my right goggle with water, but I didn’t need that eye anyway, since the buoys were on the left. The water was pleasant and so was the swim. The sun made the 2nd turn buoy hard to see, but otherwise everything was very visible.
I’m surprised to see my average heart rate was 144 because the whole thing felt very easy and breezy, I had no pain anywhere and I was not tired when I got out. I would say I burned no matches here, which is a good way to start the day. I came in at 1:20, which is only a minute slower than Santa Rosa, where I assuredly tried a lot harder. However, the course was a bit short, so I guess I was, in the end, swimming quite a bit slower. I’m still happy with the swim, and much to DJ’s chagrin, spent quite a bit of the race admiring the morning light in the clouds.
I did jog out of the swim into the changing tent, which felt fine (yay ear plugs). I put yellow electrical tape on the top of my T1 bag, so it was very easy to see and I grabbed it right away. The night before it had rained a bit (despite nothing of the sort in the forecast)–nothing was wet, although I do need to remember to cinch my bags very tight with a bow. Sometimes the bags get moved by the volunteers.
I changed very slowly in the changing tent. I put arm coolers on, but I didn’t ball them up, so I had real trouble getting them on. A volunteer helped me with the second one, and she actually did it properly. The spray sunscreen I had went on slowly, the pump was not great. I didn’t get any on one of my hands, which got a proper sunburn (since I usually wear gloves). Otherwise, I did not get any sun burns (I did make sure to gradually tan my legs through the spring which probably helped a lot).
I would say in general, I did a bad job putting on socks and my arm coolers. I took some time drying off which was unnecessary. Just dry my feet for the socks, arms for coolers, and that’s it.
I went out way too hard, my first splits were above my target watts, which was mostly caused by having to do a lot of passing. I think this is really where practice would have helped–ideally we should have done at least one 70.3 first. I needed to settle in more quickly and stop caring about other people. I wound up passing a handful of people on every climb and having them repass me on descents where they had bigger chainrings. I also think I would continuously go over watts to pass people and then settle back down again, so it caused a lot of yoyo-ing (they might well have been doing the same thing).
Lesson: don’t go from 5 years of no triathlons, to Ironman
Lesson: settle into target watts more quickly and don’t burn matches from the get go
The temperature overall was reasonable on the bike course; it helped that on the second lap, as things were getting hot, that a random and sudden downpour/hail storm appeared out of nowhere. I was grinning ear to ear! It cooled down, the weather gods heard my pleas! It actually made some of the pain in my foot dissipate for a brief period of time, although my waterlogged shoes and socks eventually caused some extreme pain in one of my big toes for unknown reasons.
So the pain: as mentioned previously, my dreaded foot pain returned, despite feeling like I had fixed the problem during training by adjusting my cleats and focusing on using my whole foot evenly to pedal. I would guess that by 1) going out too hard and 2) not paying attention to my pedal stroke, I went straight back to bad habits. It was fairly excruciating at times, but my saddle pain was much worse (I actually have purple bruises down there). I’m honestly surprised at how much pain I was in on the bike, as I was fairly certain I had solved all these problems in training. I even stopped at aid stations 3 times which is unheard of! Perhaps it was using my tri shorts, which I had not used in training? I’m not sure, but something needs fixing before I attempt this again.
So like I mentioned, I stopped a lot. I stopped 1.5 hours in to use the restroom and I stopped to grab my special needs bottle–I did not plan on doing this, but my gels sounded frankly horrendous, so I needed the calories. My stomach was no good on the bike. Every time I took in nutrition and went back into aero, my stomach was upset. This was a new one for me, and I think it just goes back to feeling queasy all morning. Two of the three gels I had taped to my top tube sounded gut wrenching (the honey stinger was delicious though!). I also grabbed water at every single aid station which is wild. I just wanted something cold and fresh, and grabbing my water from the back of my saddle was a bit on the difficult side, so why not just take the water that was being handed out? All of these stops and slow downs were probably why my time was so atrocious, but they did mentally help me out, and the stops helped my sad, throbbing feet.
My back and neck were okay at least that how it seemed at the time (foreshadowing!)
Lesson: I absolutely should have gotten a real bike fit
I slowly unwound myself from my bike and casually strolled through transition. I tried to jog once, but my hip adductors were instantly seized up, so I resumed my casual stroll. My bike was on the end of a rack, so I simply sat down in the cool, shady grass and took my damn time. At that point, I was off the “no stopping” plan, so I just did not care anymore.
I had very last minute stuck some old back up socks in my running bag and THANK GOD for that, because my feet were soaked. The first thing I did was take my shoes and socks off so I could let my feet dry out a bit. I changed my shirt from a regular bike jersey to a light wool t-shirt (always worth it), put on some more sunscreen, continued to wear those arm coolers, and put on my nice dry shoes and socks. Standing up was not as hard as I thought it would be, thank god. I filled my run bottles in transition (which I wasn’t planning to do), and got under way.
The disaster (the run)
Where to even start with this.
I started running, and my legs felt absolutely fine. Running was not a problem for my legs, hips, glutes, or calves. However. That back that had been all crunched up in aero for the last 6+ hours? So much pain with every step–and it was immediately obvious that my hand bottles were making it worse. But what could I do? I had planned to do what I always did in all my runs for nutrition, and I was very nervous to just toss that in the trash (I should have).
It was also immediately apparent that the stomach pain I felt in aero was not going to magically go away while running. I could feel within a quarter mile that it was very likely I was going to get the full abdomen “side” stitch that I had had in my previous 2 Ironmans, which was a problem I really thought I had solved. I had told myself if I had this problem again, I would quit Ironman. So. Not really a great mental place to be.
I found it nearly impossible to take in any nutrition or fluid, with an upset stomach and pissed off diaphragm. I could only bear running for a few blocks at a time. It was so frustrating and painful that I started having the beginnings of a panic attack, which is right about the time I saw DJ coming back from his first lap. I broke down immediately in tears, saying I didn’t think I could do it.
So in the end, I basically walked the entire first lap. I was so deflated. I had planned my entire race on finally having a good run, that I almost instantly gave up the moment I realized it just wasn’t going to happen. I was going to have yet another sufferfest to get to the finish line. And my mind immediately said “no thanks”. I just… did not want to. Guillermo eventually caught up to me, and we walked together quite a bit, as he was also having stomach issues. I do wonder if I would have tried harder to run if I were by myself out of sheer boredom. I also started to feel guilty that I might be influencing him to quit, too, so I told him he should definitely not stick with me, he should try to run a little more. I was had mentally quit before I finished my first lap.
It took me 2 hours to go 9 miles, and I really was not into a 6 hour “run”. I tried to jog a bit at the start of the second lap, and I did feel a little better. However, I had not had any nutrition at all for 2 hours, and I didn’t think there was any way to recover from that deficit, even if I could have resumed running. So I stopped. I waited for DJ to catch up to me, I even walked backwards on the course to the park to wait in the grass. I told him I was quitting. I think there was perhaps a moment when he could have convinced me to keep going–I had not yet stopped my watch. I guess there was a small part of me that wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. However, I can’t put that on anyone, I can’t depend on someone else to swoop in and save me.
I think the main issue here, besides lack of sleep and a bad stomach, was a total lack of scenario planning. Ironman is all about careful planning, and since the start of the pandemic and a cascade of anxiety problems, I have felt allergic to planning. Part of the reason we signed up for this race was to get out of that funk and work towards something again. However, I did not spend much time thinking through race day and “what ifs”. I only had the best case scenario in my head.
The things that went wrong have gone wrong before, so it’s not exactly wholly unexpected. But the disappointment of it all was so strong and my lack of imagination was so complete, that I just could not fathom another shitty run. I had also been in pain for 6 hours already, and the thought of another 5-6 hours of pain was just too much to bear at that moment. I had left disaster planning up to chance–and when I am tired and miserable, it’s all too easy to just give up.
Frankly, I didn’t even feel as bad as I had at Ironman Arizona or Santa Rosa! But my goal was to race, not to “just finish”. But I forgot how horrible it feels (later) to quit–to have to explain yourself and tell everyone you quit. I would rather go back and cry myself through 6 hours of painful run walking then tell people I quit.
Lesson: Plan for the worst, hope for the best
I should have forced myself to run between the aid stations, and forced myself to take in nutrition. If that didn’t work, I should have instituted a run/walk program (run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes, etc). I needed to take emotions and “what do I feel like in this moment” out of the equation, because of course it all feels bad so feelings are irrelevant. I should have decided ahead of time that I always finish no matter what. Or not. The point being that I should have decided that ahead of time. I don’t want to be making on the fly decisions, because on 3 hours of sleep and nothing left in the tank, my brain is not exactly on top of things.
After the race, all four of us were convinced we were never racing an Ironman again. 2 days later I was checking out Airbnbs for Ironman Penticton in August. So who TF knows.