Race Report: IMCDA
June 28, 2015
Let’s begin with the end: I finished!
It was my 3rd slowest IM out of 4.
My marathon was about an hour and a quarter slower than I’d expected.
My feet were the most painful part of my body.
I was 4th in my AG but separated by only minutes from 2nd and 3rd.
It was, to quote the announcer, the HOTTEST IM he ever announced.
It was the hottest day in recorded history in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
My Garmin thermometer topped out at 107.8 on the second lap of the bike.
It was much hotter than any air I’ve ever been in during my 45 years on this planet.
I hate the heat.
Now, back to the start.
Since early 2015 I’ve been training thoroughly, with minor interruption, quite consistently and with no injury. In that time period I did one running race and one ski race. I swam indoors 2-3 times a week in the masters program. I utilized the snow and did some long ski training. I purchased a Wahoo Kickr and started using Zwift and rode both more volume and intensity than I ever have in my training. Spring found me strong and ready. Since the snow melted and the weather warmed I got five 100+ mile rides in addition to plenty of intensity. I did long running, track workouts, and hill running. I started swimming outdoors and got at least four solid lake swims. I had some promising brick workouts.
I was PRIMED for this event. If you know me, you realize I don’t say this kind of thing often. All of the elements have to align. They ALL were. The excitement was building and after the last big training weekend I smiled and knew I’d made it.
Around 10 days out I checked the weather. Double-checked. 100 degrees it said. What? No way. Impossible. Had to be wrong. This started the overly checking. The only thing that happened while I kept looking time after time was that it got hotter. The forecast rose up to 107 degrees. 107!!! That’s crazy talk. I don’t even know what that feels like. People said weather changes fast in CDA. Well, it didn’t. As a matter of fact that heat wave stayed stuck right there on the weather report with the single hottest day, of course, slated for Ironman Sunday.
One important thing to know about me: hot weather and I disagree. I had a childhood in NH, adolescence in AK, college in VT, a stint in the Rockies and then settled in ME. See? All colder climates. I melt in heat. My physiology just works that way. I sweat a lot, my temperature rises and my central governor responds quickly with a feeling of tiredness. Why did I pick the Coeur d’Alene IM? I wanted to train in cooler weather and RACE in cool, dry weather. It’s my element.
So, this weather report? It was the only thing left that could really go wrong and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
I tried a shortened sauna protocol, but was really too late to be gaining from it.
There were grumblings that the race would be cancelled or shortened. I borrowed an ice hat. I bought cooling sleeves. I listened to advice from coaches and friends about dealing with the heat. I’ve already read everything I could get my hands on last summer when I wanted to try and beat the heat in a 10K. A 10K!! Ha! That’s nothing. Try 140.6 miles in HOT.
We get to CDA. It’s hot. So hot it is oppressive walking to the race venue. The air feels like a sauna. It’s only 90 degrees.
Race day dawns. No cancellation. No words other than, be smart, hydrate, listen to your body. Hmm. Time to race I guess. My mantra is SURVIVE. I’ve had dozens of texts from friends and family. Some are like this: “Carrie, you don’t really need to do this.” Or like this: “Hey, there are other races. Please don’t hurt yourself.” And the email: “I heard they might cancel the race.” What? (Is that optimism I feel?)
Anyway, I tuck into the back third of the front swim corral. I’ve never done a rolling start and I’m kind of looking forward to it. The gun goes, the people move. Into the water and off we go and I’m not doing the freak out panic swim like a sardine thing, but I am strategically finding feet and trying to keep with them. There are people all around me still but it doesn’t have the same madness. I’ve decided to keep this day steady and ‘peaceful’ and so I just make a game of following feet. There are certainly a lot of them to choose from. The first lap just kind of rolls on by, we stand up, run the beach, and lap two begins. This one feels like it goes faster (it doesn’t really) but it’s also HOT, almost uncomfortably so in my wetsuit and I am more than ready to get out of there. I jog up the beach, have to sidestep past a few people, and into the women’s tent where there is literally no one. I have a cadre of volunteers, who practically dress me, spray me with sunscreen and send me on my way. Quickly I’m on the bike and heading off into the unknown.
Confession: I did not preview the course. Yes, I read old race reports and looked at the map and elevations but really that’s nothing like looking at it. So, it’s a bit of an adventure! First part is out by the lake, a few little neighborhood roads and turns, some small hills, nothing too remarkable. The air feels ok now. Dry and warm, but not oppressive. I have a plan to ride closer to my usual pacing in the first loop hoping to catch the ‘cooler’ air, and then drop it down while the heat cranks up. That’s what I do.
Most of this goes fine in the first loop. I’m front loading Gatorade, counting the bottles as I consume, grabbing new ones at every aid station and starting my regular consumption of power bars. I’ve done Osmo preload both the night before and some the morning of the event. I’ve eaten a breakfast that looks more like baby food. I’m stocked! But hey, it’s a hot ironman so it’s eat, drink, pedal, say hi to some people, check out the rather unappealing highway section of the course, observe that the hills seem bigger than I expected and keep at it. Notable things: the motorcycle officials gave me a thumbs up and cheered me on later, one guy from Germany asked me if I was a professional, I made clean bottle swaps except for one, when I got the gatorade, tried to balance it on my arm rest to grab another and empty out an old bottle, and nearly crashed. Otherwise, all good. Second loop, heat is cranking up. Out on the highway I’m imagining a desert. It actually feels like my lungs are burning in some spots. I can’t really remember how many bottles I’ve had. Was that 7? 8? I’m popping some salt and at mile 80 I get to go for the caffeinated power gels which gives the happy lift for the last part of the bike. I coast into town feeling fine. No 80-mile misery. No stomach issues. Sure, hot, but fine. I feel like I’ve just finished a training ride.
Transition. My family is cheering. That makes me happy. I’m in no rush. I shuffle into the tent and in a more leisurely than usual way, change into running shoes, get the once again very helpful volunteers to fill my hat with ice, and to dump water on my head. My banana has literally rotted in my bag while it sat in transition. It went from bright yellow to brown thanks to the heat. It is like a cooked banana inside. I collect myself and off I go. I realize that I haven’t peed at all. That’s not good. I’m able to hit the port-o-pot and go, but it’s not much and that concerns me. Anyway, I start the run. First mile, 8:35 pace and my heart rate is at threshold. Yes, threshold. I feel like I’m sprinting! I make it to aid station #1 and I stop. I walk through, new ice in sleeves, ice in shirt, ice in hat, water all over body, eat salt. Some new salt company gives me this little tube of salt and tells me to put my thumb over the end, shake it, put the salt inside my cheek- twice every aid station. I try one and it dumps out all over my hand. I’m a salty mess. I keep going. There aren’t that many people out there yet, and enough are walking that I do some too. The big hill just appears and the guy in front of me walks up, and I walk up. I feel like I’m in some reality show.
The bulk of the run can be summed up briefly: Shuffle walk jog to aid stations, dump as much ice and water on myself as possible, drink some Gatorade, continue. Go through every hose, be sprayed by water guns, take every single opportunity to get cooled. I had ice in my hat all day. Volunteers at every stop added more. I wasn’t thinking ‘fast’, I was thinking finish. Every time I jogged my heart rate shot up. Even walking it never went below 125.
Through all of this my head was clear. I laughed at jokes. I chatted with people. On the second lap my calves began to cramp. I must have been delirious because it was the most painful thing and I had to walk each time to get them to stop as they were within one millisecond of seizing up. I could see the muscle bulging through the skin. There was nothing I could do but walk, try to relax them and keep at it. Like I said, ice, water, walk, jog, cramp, ice, water, clif bloks, salt tabs, water… I don’t know. In the second lap I have no idea what I ate. I had so much salt. I had Clif bloks. My whole plan was blown. It was a march to finish.
A note on volunteers and people on the course: they MADE the day. I mean they were out there in the heat too and happy as ever. I had so much ice and water dumped on me, sprinklers to run through, hoses squirting me that I went from wet to starting to dry to wet again. I’m convinced all of that saved me.
When I hit the part to turn off for the finish it was suddenly an empty street. One guy was a little in front of me. His hamstring was cramping. I watched him run, stop, grab his hamstring, hobble, run, repeat… I made an enormous effort to run the last 8 blocks and through the finish. My calves were threatening revolt, but I did it. The finish line was like a mirage in the distance. I started to smile because in some hilarious way, I’d overcome my own personal kryptonite to succeed. I crossed that line, celebrated the moment and went around to see my family.
I can’t eat right after races. They do a number on my digestive system. I walked out to the grass and sat down with my kids and Tom. I was almost in disbelief. Happy, but crazed. As I sat there soaking in the moment, a sudden nausea swept in. Powerful. SO powerful. I was going to… yup. I started heaving into the grass and lo and behold there was a lot of orange Gatorade with lumps of Clif blok. I couldn’t stop though- someone went and got a medic who walked me to the medical tent where I sat, shaking, sipping ice water by a giant fan and trying not to heave again. I was in good company. The place was starting to take in lots of vomiting, shaking, dehydrated people. I cooled a bit and hobbled back, found my family and somehow made it back to the hotel, which was right next to the finish line. So much for the next 12 hours. I was so sick I could not eat but kept sipping water, slowly, trying to rehydrate. The nausea lingered for three days!
Oh, and my feet. I’d never ever been in a race where so much water was dumped on me. Melting ice means wet feet for almost 5 hours. They were trashed. Every toenail hurt. The bottoms of my feet were in agony. Lesson learned. Better socks and different shoes in hot, long races.
So, I’m not disappointed in my performance. Upon reflection, I’m pleased. I’ve never, ever in 25 years of endurance racing, dropped out of a race. I was prepared to do so during IMCDA but I didn’t. My swim was good, my bike was good, and my run was a lesson in perseverance and cooling.
When I learned, after the race, that I was fourth in my AG, my attitude changed a bit. After two Kona qualifiers that I turned down, I planned to take this one and the top 3 went. Only minutes separated me from 2 and 3. Could I have made up minutes on that run? Probably. On the other hand, my goal for the day was to survive, so at no time was I even thinking about my overall time. I had no idea how long I’d even been racing. Still, missing a spot, in the hottest IM ever for the heat hating northerner was a little hard to take.
The silver lining of the race was that I have reconfirmed that just about everything is possible. I did not really know that I could even function at this temperature, and yet, I did. I got through mild delirium, the only cramps I’ve ever had racing (in my life), ruining my feet and 108 degrees of HOT.
So after that day, we drove to Montana and went hiking in Glacier National Park. That puts it all into perspective. After 3 days the little aches and pains were gone and other than my pathetically painful blisters and toenails, I was good.
Tiny space for thanks here, because no Ironman finisher is an island. Maine may have some inhospitable weather for triathlon training, but it also has some of the greatest people. I had the best swimmers to help me train in the pool and the lake (thanks Cheryl and Cape Masters), some amazing cyclists to keep me hammering away on the streets (thanks to Dawn Patrol including Ted who kindly let me drag him on some early season long rides and my Zwift companions from all over the world and right here in Maine), and some of the fastest female runners in the state (much appreciation to Erin and Mary for kicking my ass up Mountain Road and reminding me that the amount I run is really nothing when compared to them). I also thank my longtime coach and colleague Kurt Perham of PBM Coaching who always reminds me to keep my head in the right place and tells it like it is 100% of the time. Thanks to my family for letting this ironman dictate a family vacation, and then being the greatest supporters on race day. Finally, thanks to Skratch Labs who appointed me as a Taste Agent meaning I get to consume delicious things while I bike and run. The raspberry energy chews rule!
OK, until next time!