IMCDA Race Report Part I: The Water Blender

It's Thursday, four days since Ironman Coeur d'Alene.  I've been sleeping at least eight hours a night and it hasn't been nearly enough. I'm typing the beginnings of my race report here still in a mental fog.  My brain feels heavy, and sluggish.  My body has recovered to where the swelling in my legs and feet has subsided -- revealing the true aches and creaks in my right hip and left Achilles.  Neither hurt during the actual race, which is either attributed to other parts hurting, willpower to overcome pain, or a combination of the two. I'm going to focus more on the physical side of my race here, saving some of the more mental in-depth stuff for the upcoming Lava Magazine column.  I will share that incorporating several of the lessons from the past six months -- intentionally and unintentionally -- saved my day.  You'll see why below.


I woke up quiet and focused around 4:15 a.m., feeling more tense than I recall for Ironman Arizona.  What's worse, the pain you don't know or the pain you know is coming?  Steph lightened the mood in the hotel room by turning on iTunes and playing the Rocky soundtrack, specifically the "Going the Distance" song I love listening to over and over to fire myself up.

All it took was one playthrough to be locked in for the day.

We arrived at the race site around 5:15 a.m.  You'd think this is enough time but I barely made it to the crowded swim start by 6:55 a.m.  Special needs bags need to be dropped off.  Tires needed to be pumped and water bottles needed to be filled for the bike ride.  I had last-minute changes for my T1 and T2 gear bags, and by the time I did that the port-o-potty line was at around 30 minutes.  Add it all up and I'm frantically applying Body Glide before putting on my wetsuit around 6:50, while the announcer is forcing everyone out of the transition area because it is now closed.

I prefer to be in my "happy place" by this point.  On the shore, splashing in the water, focused and ready.  Instead, I'm wedged between at least 1,000 of my new friends, funneling our way to one pinch-point of a beach entrance.  Shuffling.  Elbowing just a little.  Smiling just a little too. Mostly quiet.

I made it onto the sand with minutes to spare.  Being a little guy, I wormed my way to the front of the pack and put my feet in the water, splashed it on my face and kept my hands in it until they started to get numb.  Better to acclimate then than in the mass race start, a tip I learned from my buddy Rusty just the day before.

Then I realized that water was probably filled with urine from everyone peeing themselves in their wetsuits.

Thanks Rusty!

No time to chuckle then.  The race was about to start.


This is what the race start looked like from afar:

It almost looks orderly and peaceful, right?  Rows of obedient swimmers plunging into the depths, like an Esther Williams movie.  Oh, how I wish it was that simple.

This swim start, running into the lake and swimming for dear life, was harder than a mass start from a floating position.  With the latter, you can ask around to see what pace people are aiming for and float forward or backward depending on what you learn.  Not here.  Not in the chaos.  Especially not at the front of the pack.

My thinking at the time was that if I could hang with the fast pack for the first 300 yards, I could pause, catch my breath while swimming more slowly and regain my normal T-pace.

Poor theory, poor execution.

I rocketed out into the water, though I instinctually kept my head out of the water for fear of being kicked and punched.  This was totally involuntary but as I saw the rupturing explosiveness all around me -- a white churning hurricane of arms and feet, I realized I didn't want to put my precious head into that blender.

Three hundred yards out (I'm guessing), I was panting for breath.  Breast-stroking.  Being passed by the second wave of fast swimmers, swimming over, around and through me.

It honestly felt like my day was over before it even started.  I've got to become faster and more aggressive in the water.

I managed to rally myself forward, still mostly breathless.  I knew if I could just remain calm and not panic, I'd be OK.  Eventually this proved to be the case.  Despite being kicked in the groin, ribs and head, I found a pace, some free water space, and a nice rhythm.  Before too long, I could hear the announcer's voice welcoming back the swimmers from their first of two loops, and then I could see the archway for exiting the water.  I did it. I survived the first swim loop of Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

My watch read 38:47 when I climbed out of the water blender known as Lake Coeur d'Alene. I figured my first loop would be between 35 and 40 minutes, so I was right on line.

Loop two got wicked though.

Swimming in 54 degree water can harm the body, no matter how warm you think you are.  Honestly, the cold never bothered me in the water.  However, the grabbing, punching and kicking from other swimmers took its toll.  A third of the way into the second loop, I got grabbed on my calf, and as I wriggled free my legs locked up.  Cramps. Both of them.  I went from being horizontal to completely vertical in the water, bobbing helplessly like a cork top.  Waves of swimmers in my pack lurched ahead.  Was my day over now? I had hardly ever experienced a cramp in the water before in an open-water swim.

Cramps became a problem throughout the remainder of the swim.  I overcame them by not panicking and employing various mental exercises that helped me visualize a successful swim from a different vantage point. I'll get into that in my Lava column.  My goggles were also knocked loose, which proved difficult to fix because my hands were not too dexterous due to the cold and because my goggle straps were tucked in underneath my latex neon green swim cap.  I lost two minutes adjusting my straps there, and another two minutes late in the swim peeing. See, at Ironman Arizona, I refused to pee in the water during the swim, thinking my urge would go away once I got on the bike.  And I was so focused on having a great swim I didn't want to bother stopping.  Not this time.  I knew better, bobbing in the water and peeing roughly a quarter-mile from shore knowing I'd save time in T1 while everyone else peed before cycling.

According to the Timex clock above the archway, I exited the water in 1:19:43, just 17 seconds faster than my predicted 1:15-1:20 duration.  I looked down to see what my Garmin watch indicated.

It was gone. Victim to the thrashing, scraping, kicking and punching in the water.


How am I going to pace myself the rest of the day without a watch?

More on that tomorrow.  Part II: Racing on Instinct.