Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ironman Couer D'alene

It was a pretty rash decision to enter this race, but what the hell, I’ve always been somewhat of a risk-taker and now I've come to the realisation that I’ll be dead pretty soon my philosophy is: If in doubt -  go for it (don’t worry – it's nothing serious – you'll be dead soon enough too....).  When I came up with the plan, Vanessa had been really understanding and encouraged me to do it if I wanted. I know I am an unreliable racer and if you were reading my form guide in the racing section of the paper,  I would have plenty of duck eggs next to my name in the results column and the form-experts comment after the stats would be something like Solid performer on his day, but unreliable. Having raced Cairns just 3 weeks prior the late, great form student Don Scott would have probably added - 'Backing up from a hard run too soon. Not here'.

Knows his stuff
Coeur D’Alene is a town of about 50,000 people in Idaho, about 500kms inland from Seattle. It is a resort town in what is know as the PNW (Pacific North West), an area of the States I'd been to a couple of times, and was very fond of. Great beer, friendly people and beautiful landscape. What's not to like. The flights were not that bad, 7 hours to Tokyo and 8 hours to Seattle and a short hop to Spokane Washington, home town of rock-star triathlon heart throb, Ben Greenfield. Perhaps I could brush shoulders with the great man and maybe even get a free power bracelet. Or maybe he would be in the race and pass me about 1/2 way through the run as he did in no fewer than three races last year.

What a guy.
I’d read that the hotels in CDA all jack their prices up and being so close to the race, I logged onto Air BnB and booked a room in a house in town for a pretty cheap rate. The host was Ginny, a lovely local who was living with her elderly Mum, Penny and they were very accommodating and friendly. It's pretty cool to step into a suburban house, as you get a feel of the local people and for triathlons, houses are just much more functional than hotels when it comes to the needs of the little fiddly things that need to be done before a race. They had also been very accommodating in receiving all my online shopping packages from Amazon before I arrived. The only 'down-side is the requirement to perform daily social niceties than one must perform more often than you would if you were in your own digs. But I like to think I'm outgoing enough for it not to be too much of a burden and having spent much of my travelling time sightseeing in the tourist traps; these days travelling has become more about the people than the sites. 

$80 a night and local hospitality. Very not bad.
I had a couple of mechanical issues before the race with a bolt in my derailuer going missing, which required a trip to the bike shop and then on my final ride the day before the race, my seat post clamp widget, bolt and nut all clapped out. This saw the seat post slip right down into the frame and me pedalling in the standing position for 10kms to get home. I rolled into ‘Bob’s Own’ Hardware store near Ginny's crib at 2pm (with bike check-in closing at 3pm), clutching my lightly shredded seat clamp bolt. The store was empty and my mate Bob was tending the counter. I could sense him shudder at the very sound of my accent, with expectation of the obvious impending request for some part related to the  metric system or some other weird Aussie do-hickie or thingamajig that he would never have in stock. When I showed him the bolt in question, he said "Metric eh" and went out the back and soon re-emerged triumphant, the last one he had in a big drawer full of bolts he said and it was a perfect match. 'Yeeeeeeha Billy Bob' I wanted to say. 'You just done save my ass'. Literally.

Fortunately I also had packed a spare of the weird widget thing that clamps the seat post and a pack of the correct nuts, so I was all set for check in. I've learned to always travel with one of those clamps and also one of the derailuer hangers. I got to bike check in about ten minutes after it officially closed, wondering the whole time on my way there if they would be strict and tell me I missed the cutoff and maybe I would have to fight for my right to party, but they let me straight in no worries/problem! Seat post was solid as a rock baby.

An essential dohickie and a thingymajig. Like a belt for your seat post.

Ginny had invited me to a BBQ that a friend of theirs hosts of the eve of the ironman every year. It was in the Wisteria Lane section of CDA with lawns manicured and hedges trimmed just so. There were about a dozen late middle-aged CDA peeps there, who were all very friendly. Turns out I was the the only non-American there, and also the only one racing, so I felt like the big-shot celebratory that everyone wanted a piece of. We spent about three hours there and it was a really enjoyable afternoon/evening and I charmed the socks off of all of them of course - even bagged a couple of contacts for future stays here and also some dude who was building a house near Kona. I think Ginny got a bit huffy that she had to share her local celebratory as I hadn't spent enough time with her at the party; as the car ride home was a bit quiet. Damn it's hard to be socially perfect all the time - sorry for not being the perfect date Ginny!

Damn Straight.

I didn’t sleep so well the night before the race again, but was up and at ‘em in time for the regulation bacon, egg, sausage fry-up at 4am. Unfortunately the smoke detector in the house was not quite up to coping with my requisite amount of fat for my pre-race nutrition and let it's displeasure known to all and sundry. A mini panic ensued which helped get me, Ginny and Penny all pumped up for the race.

Just keeping y'all safe.

I had the zipper fixed on the one piece skin suit that had malfunctioned in Cairns and decided to give it another run as it owed me a few minutes for it's aero-goodness. However when I was zipping it on it unzipped at the base again and split open again. This time wa before the gun and teeth weren't bent, so I was able to re-thread it and get it zipped up but eventually it would split again in the middle of the zipper 40kms into the bike. I'm convinced these skin suits are really effective for aerodynamics but they need to be warn really tight for the aero benefit and the zippers in the Pearl Izumi one are just not robust enough to trust. Hopefully as the trend gathers more speed they will improve this with stronger zippers or ones without zippers. I do recall some track cyclists being sewn into theirs -not sure that will catch on in tris though.

The sleeves are the future but the zipper needs reinforcement.
SWIM 3.8km 1.05
The wind was quite strong and the waves were rolling in like a Mofo from the lake to the shore. The swim was 2 laps – basically 1km out into the waves, short turn then 1km back with the waves at your back, then a short run on the beach, rinse and repeat. The start was a rolling start like a running race. with everyone’s time starting as you went over the mat. I lined up in the sub one hour coralle even though I didn’t think I would achieve that but given the chop, I didn’t think many would and there were a few hundred in there.  The Lake is very pretty, situated right in the centre of town, but the beach is quite narrow, so swims in previous years had been really rough, so they had introduced this rolling start in 2013 to reduce the roughness which had helped. This day there was still lots of physical contact. With the waves crashing into your face, combined with dudes swinging into your head and kicking you made for not such a fun first kilometre. I could feel I was swimming pretty badly, but couldn’t seem to snap myself out of it. Coach Woody has said that it’s really difficult for athletes to swim hard when tired, but previously I had thought it was just swinging the arms over and pulling, so the tiredness would not show until later in the day, but as usual I'd realised he was right and if I thought about it if I had a bad day on the pool in training it was when I was knackered from the day before. And during this swim I was thinking -  'maybe I have not recovered from Cairns after all. Hmmmmm. Can't wait to get on the bike.'

Pre rolling start at IMCDA. A bit of a mess!

Anyway I trudged through the first lap in just over 30 miserable minutes and then the  chop picked up even more in the second lap and I went through that second lap in another horrible 34minutes or so. Not my finest moment on an ironman swim course, but as usual was pretty glad when it was over.

BIKE 180kms 5.18

The one-piece aero suit did feel a bit more tight in the shoulders during the swim – actually come to think of it....... I’m going with that – I swam badly because of the shoulders on my skin suit making me swim badly. Yeah, yeah. That was it, fah sure. Even still, I felt pretty good getting on the bike and thanks to my average swim was passing quite a few people early. The bike course in CDA is basically two loops with most of the loops being an out and back on a closed highway where it is mostly a long 20km climb out and descending back, plus a little 20km loop in town and away from the freeway. On this day the climbing was straight into a headwind and the descent with a tail wind. It was nice to hit the turnaround on each lap. At the first turnaround point I could see I was about 20th or so overall, which I was reasonably happy with and stayed in about that position for most of the rest of the ride.  I was looking at the faces of the dudes ahead of me coming back towards me and most of them were sans-wrinkles so younger than me and I guessed I was in a Kona Q position (top 6 in my AG). The first lap of 90kms went by in about 2.32, so I was thinking the 5.05-8 split I had predicted would be possible. Then at about 95kms my rear derailleur just stopped working. Damn. I could be in trouble here I thought.

12T = Sub optimal
 I was at the end of a descent and was in the biggest gear, 54/12. I did a quick mental stocktake and realised I still had the 20km climb into the headwind and thought 'If this front derailleur has stopped too I could be in for a long walk up those hills ahead'. Fortunately the front was still working, so I got it back in the small ring in the front, but the rear was not playing ball at all, only slipping between the 11-12. And yes it was a Di2 battery fail but before you tri-geeks scoff too much, I did check the battery level before I left for the race and it indicated 50% which normally means another month of charge, but I think the battery is getting old therefore the last half of power draining sooner and yes, I know I should have charged it again anyway.

Charge it Marge, don't you muck about.

I know from experience that once the rear derailleur stops it’s not long until the front stops working too, so I decided I had to do almost the rest of the bike in the small ring at the front and 12 at the back. Once into the hills on the freeway again the wind had picked up some more and it was blowing pretty hard right into our faces. There was one descent on the way out but I didn’t dare put it into the big ring in case it got stuck there. Once into the headwind climb, I was grinding away at about 30-40rpm and was pushing about 300-320 watts. Due to the torque those watts were not really as productive as they should have been, and I couldn’t take a hand off the bars to eat or drink anything. So a few times I thought I was going to have to get off an push it up the hill.  My stomach was also slightly upset and I’d rank that hour or so until the turnaround, being forced to push 30rpm, borderline vimoting, totally knackered and being forced to push watts over my capability as one of the least enjoyable hours I’ve ever had on a bike. I kept thinking of the regular big gear sub 50rpm work I do in training and tri coach guru Brett Sutton in an interview saying to triathletes "Yes you can push a big gear if you want" and thought maybe I could still fudge my way through it. Just.Get. To. Turn around. This too shall pass.

I was pretty stoked to get the turnaround point and head back into town with the tailwind and descent. There was still one 500-1km climb left at about the 170km mark so I was worried about putting it in the big ring at the front as I might need to push it up that climb if the battery failed and left me in the big ring. So I did the long rolling descent in tailwind in the small ring, just spinning 6 revolutions at about 120rpm when I slowed sufficiently to strain the chain then staying aero as much as possible.  I got passed by a few dudes on the descending but not as many as I thought. I got up the last hill back at 30rpm and then it did switch back to the big ring and I rolled into town at decent speed, but was pretty knackered.

RUN 5~ hours - have not dared to look at the results.

I started the run with some confidence of a Kona slot as I thought the level of athlete was pretty low and I just needed to fudge through a 3.45 marathon to stamp the ticket. Unfortunately early on I felt pretty terrible and the stomach was not playing ball either. First time that gut issues had happened to me since starting the low carb diet. Bummer. About 10kms in and I was already feeling pretty spent and struggling to even hold 5min k pace. The stomach was not playing ball much either. I had been passed by loads of guys but only 2 in my AG, so I was down to 5th and saw there were another 4-5 guys within a few minutes behind me. I had to go into the portaloo at about the 15km and made some deposits from both ends. Not much fun. I knew I was out of gas and was just shuffling. I had decided to stop once I was back in town at the 21km mark as walking through 21kms did not seem like my idea of fun.

The crowd support at this race was like no other I'd done, the Americans are just so damned nice! It was blowing my mind a bit; how much positive energy even the 6 year old kids were putting into the competitors. We just don't have this mentality in Australia. I was thinking how your average Australian's default personality leans towards cynicism that often trends more to nastiness than niceness and the reasons behind this were swarming through my head through the whole run, and mostly I was thinking "Damn - we take the piss out of Americans but there is certainly something to be said for just being nice and uplifting to your fellow humans". Especially when you were feeling as fragile as I was.

What's not to like 'bout Murikans
Once I got back close to town half way, I was still planing on heading to my bike and back home, but the support was so genuine and positive I just could not bring myself to stop. One lady was shuffling alongside of me for about 500m telling me she was not gonna let me walk by her and I had to run with her. She did it for both laps and was investing so much energy into me as a total stranger it was crazy. I even stopped at a party table a did a shot of some hot fire 'Fireball' liquor with the party dudes, so once I got to the finish line, with those annoying arrows showing this way to the finish line and this way to next lap, (annoying when you're not on the right queue), before I knew it, I had done a U turn and was shuffling back out onto the second lap. Damn, this will be a long 21kms I thought, but what the hell, I could walk the whole thing and at least not log a DNF.

Proven to be 42% more powerful than gatorade.

The crowd were so supportive again and my race day I.Q and fragility made a resolve that not only would I try to be 'more American' and nicer to people and always wish the best for others (which I try to do) but also cut out the people in my life who were not wishing the best for me, or willing me to fail. The whole 'Be Mo Positive' mentality is a topic I've always found really interesting -. As I'd always thought being overly positive takes away from your credibility, which I still believe - if you see a movie or show or game and it is crap, then just telling everyone it is great takes away from your credibility I reckon.

But there is a difference between that type of faux positivity and being positive by wishing the best for people around you, and just generally being nice to others. For sure there are people who I don't like much and don't necessarily care if they succeed or not, but I try to keep those people out of my life. I'd done my time being forced to spend time around nasty people who were wishing the worst for me while growing up, and I choose not to have it as an adult. If people are in my life but it becomes pretty clear they aren't wishing the best for me, then why give those people any 'access' to me. They just put you in a bad mood for two days after any interaction you have with them. And by the same token I should practice what I preach and be as nice to people as you can and always wish the best for people I choose to have in my life.  It's funny I do wonder how many people look back on their life and if they have a regret it would be 'I wish I was nicer when I was younger'. I put my hand up to that.
Now don't we all feel better know.

Anyway I shuffled on to the 38km mark, did another shot at the party Fireball table, busted out some moves to Ice Ice Baby with another party house, and it was probably the only IM run that I could say I 'enjoyed' and felt part of the community spirit, as it all gets so much more fun when you stop racing.

This is the first time I found any of the 'funny' signs funny after 30kms.  

Well that was it - there will be no Kona for me this year, and with staffing issue in Singapore I'm not sure I will be able to get away from the clinic to even get there. Since the race my back/calf has gone on me again and I have not been able to run for two weeks, so am not sure what will happen for Cebu and IM  Japan. Hopefully it comes good soon. Onwards. 

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