PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: Coeur d'Alene, ID
About five days have passed since the race up in Idaho, and I thank you all for tuning in for my report. I apologize for the delay, but I decided to take a bit of a step back before writing the report. I know I’m not the most prompt and timely person, but this was a calculated move, as I thought it would be fun to let things sink in even further, prior to summing up the details.
My five-day hiatus from all things TRIATHLON came to an end yesterday, as the two Doping Control Agents from USADA showed up on my doorstep. It’s great to see that they are doing the testing, and I’m always more than happy to give a sample. Unlike Sunday’s post-race drug test, I was fully hydrated and able to provide right away. Enough about the urine, let’s talk race.
Race day arrived in similar fashion to the previous several days: there was a good bit of wind, plenty of chop on the lake, and temperatures were quite cool. It was a far stretch from my first CDA experience where highs in the nineties melted away a lot of Ironmen and women.
I always take it as a good sign when I awake prior to the alarm clock sounding; I somehow feel more rested and ready go. On Sunday I did just that, and managed to get a jump start on my morning routine. I phoned Amanda for some final words of encouragement; it was great to hear her voice and to get a final boost of confidence. With a short run and a LARGE breakie behind me, I headed down the street (two blocks) to transition to prepare the bike. Everything went together very smoothly, and I was back at home relaxing by 6:00 AM.
My incredibly gracious home stay folks, Ann and Tom, have a gorgeous house only steps from the venue. I was able to don the Batman suit (ie. blueseventy helix) right there in my bedroom, before moseying over to the beach. It sure was cool out, and the sea was angry.
After a high five or two from my mom, I hit the beach and readied myself for the race. I felt a nice level of confidence heading into the water, and with my Todd Gerlach swim strategy in mind, I was itching to start.
I positioned myself to the left of the field, prepared to swim solo through the first several hundred meters. As the gun went off, I did just that. I knew Rhodesy and Evans would get a jump, but my plan was to swim my own race. I kept a watchful eye on Victor, to be certain I was on pace. By the turn buoy at 800 meters, I began congratulating myself on having such a great swim. I was timing the waves just right, and my stroke felt calm, powerful, and controlled.
By the end of loop one, I found myself to the back of our small group, content to sit on feet through the remainder of the swim. Exiting the water 90 seconds down of the leading trio, I positioned myself behind Victor (light blue cap) with Jasper (yellow cap) just ahead. Moments after I hit the waves for my second 1900 meters, my swim experience went from good to bad; north to south; fun to miserable. Oops.
I am still not sure what happened, but more likely than not, I was just fatigued from loop one. Just as I was patting myself on the back in the first half, I was moping and feeling pitiful on lap two. It was amazing how drastically things had changed in the course of twenty or thirty minutes. Lap two took me five minutes longer than lap one: a terrible positive split, in part due to a few segments of backstroke swimming. Yes, even on a good day, we professionals can have some rookie moments!
Exiting the water, I did my best to shake off the insults of cramping legs that were added to the injury of my swim gone bad. (Disclaimer and apology to those who view a 57-min swim as excellent: it’s all relative.) I put the swim behind me, as soon as I hoisted myself up off the ground, after a successful wetsuit peeling (stripping).
The bike ride in Coeur d’Alene is awesome. The first fifteen-mile out-and-back is beautiful, and the sections through town are energized by large crowds of screaming Iron Sherpas and Fans. The rest of it is characterized by plenty of green rolling hills, gorgeous horse farms, and very tall pine trees. Oh, and it’s tough as hell.
I did my best to ease into the ride. I felt great out there, and rolled along at a steady clip, planning to build the final forty to fifty miles. I saw the leaders’ margins shrink for the entire first half of the bike. I was encouraged, as I really felt that my best riding was yet to come. Just as I thought I would increase the pressure, I watched as my plan again took a detour from reality.
Tom Evans dropped the hammer; Luke McKenzie went with him; Adam Jensen (a first-year pro) came by me on the bike; and I did not go any faster. The rest of the field stayed fairly steady, but it became evident that my back-half strength was not quite where it needed to be. In spite of my efforts to build, I continued to lose ground to the leaders. The deficit grew to over twelve minutes by T2.
Trying to be a good planner, I had in mind at least two race scenarios prior to the start of the race. If I was at or near the lead, I’d race a conservative marathon, similar to 2006 Arizona: building throughout. If I faced a ten-minute (or so) deficit, I’d get aggressive from the gun. Well, plan two was in effect.
I forced the pace from the outset, and my first four miles were all right at 5:55. I did not feel great, but figured I’d find my rhythm soon enough, and a 23:40 four-mile split got me pumped up a bit.
By mile five I was truly enjoying the day. It was incredibly cool out, and the breeze added to that pleasant effect. This would not be a meltdown day; if I was to catch anyone it would be due to my efforts, rather than to the attrition of a hot day.
As I made my way past Rhodesy and McKenzie, I realized the race was just beginning. The final eleven miles of the Coeur d’Alene race are make-or-break. I applied the pressure once again, and managed to bring back one minute from Victor, who was taking time out of Evans. That gain (from mile thirteen to fifteen) gave me all the encouragement I needed to keep the pace going.
It was still a large gap to first, but with Ironman racing anything can happen. (Anything is possible is a trademarked phrase, so I’m not using it.)
My final 10k was one of my best in all of my nineteen Ironman races. I had the strength and the drive to continue the chase. Victor and Tom were engaged in a great battle, and unfortunately, their battle pushed them just out of my reach. My efforts were good and fun and hard, but were only good enough to stay in third.
And when I say “only”, I mean no disrespect to the placing. A podium finish in an Ironman event is not easy to come by, and I love that I’ve been able to do just that over the past few years, much less twice in one season. Along with my finish came a second US Championship title, a welcome accolade, for sure.
I have one more Ironman this season, and after a solid summer of preparation, I’ll be out in Hawaii trying to make it three top-threes in a row.
Coeur d’Alene is probably my favorite race on the circuit. It’s hard to beat Hawaii, but if any race can do it, this one is in contention. I have to say that the local support of the event is incredible. The crowds sure know how to make you feel loved.
And in addition to the on-site support, I had a huge boost knowing that everyone back home was tuned into ironmanlive, sending out the positive vibes. An extra special thank you goes out to Amanda and Stephanie for sitting by the computers all day long! Your support is invaluable.