Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2011

What the hell happened?! Not that I had a horrible race and I really do have a lot to look back on and remember as a great day, but when things went wrong in the race……and they did……..I can’t seem to figure out what the hell happened.

Everything was set up perfectly and I had my head in the game leading up to the race. On the flight into Spokane, which was full of Ironmen and women, I listened in on a conversation between two competitors – one of which I figured might be in my age group. I was already competing and figured in my own little way that I had beat him, as he couldn’t stop talking about himself and his previous performances whereas I kept to myself. His conversation was so predictable – senseless banter that everybody in the sport already knows (“You have to have patience to race Ironman.”) to fill the gaps between jabs of bragging about his palmares (“I once came within 2 minutes of qualifying for Kona. But I’m just doing this one for fun.”).

Everything was firing me up for this race. There were no holes that I could pinpoint in my lead up to this day – training was spot on, the trip over was a breeze, there was nothing to stress about. I was extremely eager to get this race underway, and in hindsight I think mentally I was peaking a couple days prior to the race. The anticipation was killing me. I knew a 10 hour Ironman would be tough and that I was a long shot to make it happen, but there was no reason I couldn’t do it and I fully intended to charge my way through it. In my head, I pictured a 1:07 swim, a 4 minute T1, a 5:15 bike split or better, a 2 minute T2, and something around a 3:30 marathon depending on how all that other stuff actually went prior to the footrace and how much gumption I had left. I hadn’t ruled out a 3:15 marathon – though it was a foolishly aggressive thought – and at the other end of the spectrum, perhaps a 3:40 would be all I could muster. But I DID expect the questionables to be on the run, not the bike! I’ve always had a solid bike. To me 112 miles in the hills of Idaho should have been just about a formality.

But I’ll get to the actual race in a second. Friday morning I wanted to hook up with some Slowtwitchers ( forum denizens) for a one hour ride on the tougher part of the bike course. JC Ramirez, a Seattle pro of Mexican descent, had organized this ride and I thought a little scouting of the course coupled with some camaraderie would be a fun start to the day. I enjoyed picking his brain and he seemed to be a genuine nice guy in the few minutes I rode with him. Although I had raced here before in 2008, and had ridden the course on the Computrainer tons of times, this glimpse of the hills was a reality check for this eastern Carolina flatlander. But I wasn’t the least bit intimidated by them. If anything, I gained confidence from the excursion as the hills felt way easier than they did on the Computrainer. I didn’t even notice that, even on the 11% grade sustained climbs, I couldn’t shift into my largest rear cog – a 25 toother. I had decided not to bring my 12-27 since the last time I used it the 26 tooth cog wasn’t working. I figured 25 would be just fine, but back around the tobacco fields of Greenville I had no way of knowing that my derailleur couldn’t muster the strength to throw the chain up that high under heavy strain.
Dr Bob and I found each other at the Ironman Expo the day before the race. We were pumped!

The only other bit of race course testing I needed to figure out was the frigid water of Lake Coeur d’Alene (and I’m not spelling that anymore, so heretofore I’ll go with CDA). Let me step back for a second and tell you that any fool could look at the water and tell there was nothing inviting about it whatsoever. Weather had been cold and if air temps had reached 65 yet you wouldn’t have guessed it. Wind was also really gusty, and the water was horribly choppy looking. Rumor was that the water was 56 degrees. Any tough guy can jump in that kind of water in the afternoon with no agenda, swim around and wave at you in all their manliness for a few minutes, and then strut out onto the beach as if it didn’t bother them, but it’s a totally different story when you know you HAVE to get in and you HAVE to swim for an hour or more and you HAVE to do this at 7 am when the air temp hasn’t even hit 50 yet. I’d argue that it takes quite a bit of internal psyching up to make you do it. Hell, none of my triathlon buddies back home wanted any part of it and they were saying so in 95 degree weather when a plunge in cold water actually mighta felt pretty darned good! So, I’d be lying if I said there was nothing to it – my head was trying to wrap around the notion of intentionally freezing myself as if it were……well, again…..a bit of a formality.

So, Saturday late morning, after dropping off my bike and transition bags at the race site, I took a plunge in the lake. I used my old Q Roo Superfull wetsuit so my Blue Seventy wetsuit wouldn’t be wet on race day. My sister, Ginger, and wife, Angie, were there with me and this was perhaps my first glimpse of the unselfish pampering that they and the rest of the family so generously shared with me.

I guess the beach at Coeur d'Alene isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be.

And I’m gonna go off again on a tangent here because it’s my report and I want to. This trip to CDA was an idea hatched over 1.5 years ago. I’m here for my amazing parents, who live about 400 miles south, but had invited my 3 sisters and I (and families) to share their 50th anniversary up here in a majestic cabin on Hayden Lake just north of CDA. We don’t get together often as you can imagine with one sister in Boise, one in Tucson, one in freakin’ Jerusalem, and Angie and I in NC. So, this is a big deal on the Richter scale. It didn’t go unnoticed in my noggin that we’d be at an Ironman venue during this trip, but it didn’t seem right to suggest doing it on my parent’s anniversary. But when mom brought the idea up and said the family would love to cheer me on, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. It was kind of like a “Well, okay, I’ll do it but only for you! Snicker, snicker!” kind of reaction. Mom had been to both of my previous Ironmans, and dad and sister Cindy had been here for the first IMCDA I did in 2008. But Ginger, who is arguably my biggest fan, was chomping at the bit to be part of this. And sister Tammy…….well, I think the idea was a bit foreign to her but she was willing to go along with it.

My wonderful wife, Angie, and I on the Lake Coeur d'Alene waterfront.

So Angie and Ginger snapped pictures of me putting on my wetsuit as if they thought it was some kind of space suit I was going to use to blast off into space and never be seen again. Maybe they just knew how cold that water was and thought there really was a chance I wouldn’t come back out. But they were so willing to hold anything I needed them to, or wait on me when they were starving to death….just lots of unselfish stuff in stark contrast to the very clear reality that everything an Ironman does in prep for his race is all about himself and so embarrassingly selfish. And if you know Angie at all, this is as yadda-yadda-yadda-ish as it gets since I can’t even pop a zit without her pouncing on me from across the room thumbs first to burst the sucker before I even attempt it. But Ginger was a wonderful surprise to my zit-popping team (so to speak).

My oldest sister, Ginger, and I chill for lunch the day before the race.

Anyway, I waded in the water nice and slow to acclimate. A female competitor was getting ready to do the same and asked if she could join me. This was her first IM and she bashfully asked me for swim tips. I gave her some pretty stereotypical advice of some sort (starting with, “If I were you I would pee right now in that wetsuit. And back up a bit because that’s what I’m doing right now.”), feeling like I was no authority to do so. As we adjusted to the freezing water, the discussion drifted to how to handle the mob scene of swimmers that would be beating up on us during the swim. That’s when she lifted her arm and showed me that it was in a Velcro cast of some sort as she had taken a spill on the bike course the day before and fractured her wrist. She was concerned about somebody hitting it in the swim. I thought she was a lot tougher than me and was very humbled. Anyway, I wished her luck and started swimming. Nothing to it really. It was cold, but expectedly so. I was ready for the race day swim.

It doesn't look THAT cold! Let's go for a dip!

Up through this I had been totally in the zone for this race. I think I even told my good friend and training buddy, Frank Fisher, that I was here to crush dreams. Frank had got into Kona through the lottery and I desperately wanted to go with him. All I had to do was crush IMCDA, and there was no reason why I wouldn’t I thought. Weather was shaping up to be in the 70’s, water temps around 58, and 5-6 mph winds. If I’m guessing, I think all those numbers were low except water temp. Way low.

Julie Dibens, who won the women's race, has a sweet Trek Speed Concept.

But something started happening the night before the race. It’s no big deal, just your standard nerves that you would expect before a race that you had put 4 months of heart and soul into. I talked to a few friends back home, which calmed me down a little. Frank was on fire with some supportive and deep words of encouragement via text. Everyone in my family was attentive to my race needs – my sister, Cindy, wouldn’t let me clean my dinner plate. They all just wanted me to have my time to myself the way I needed to and deal with the butterflies in my stomach. I distinctly had my radar locked on that marathon plan. Marathons are always tough for me to break down and I had pegged this one as a half marathon followed by a series of short distances to get me to the finish. I went to bed around 8 I think and tried not to think about the cold water. My nerves were trying to force me to worry about something.

I woke up at 3 am and began prepping for the race. I got all my nutrition in without any feeling of throwing it all up. Check. I had some coffee and my friend, CC’s, old adage that “success on race day begins with success in the bathroom” was working like clockwork. Check. I began to psych myself up for the race. No check. “What’s going on? Okay, lock in on that marathon plan. Half mary the start, break the rest of the distance down.” Nothing. I couldn’t break the run down in my head for some reason and was fearing that I’d come out of T2 with nothing in my head but the daunting idea that I had to run 26.2 miles yet wouldn’t be willing. I just rolled on with the prep and getting dressed and stuff, and tried to tap into my zone in my head whenever I could. The run plan was key to me and not because I lacked awareness of the other two events in the race, but I just knew the focus needed to be on the marathon where all the variables were as well as the bulk of the suffering.

Our cabin had these lovely steps to deal with race morning and post Ironman festivities....

I left for the race with my mom, sisters Cindy and Ginger, and Angie and they were so good to be on time. They’re always punctual, but I don’t know if Angie reinforced this knowing that something as small as making me leave later than I anticipate for a race is enough to throw me into a stupid downward spiral. They carried stuff with me to transition, where I got my race numbers put on and then went to make last minute preparations to the bike.

Sisters Ginger and Cindy keeping me calm before the swim start.

I had brought an old pump with me that I had written on the cylinder, “use me then pass me on.” I pumped the tires up and then gave it away. I went through the rest of the preparation and then found a portapotty to lighten the load one last time. I rechecked my head to see if I was in the zone I had been struggling with getting into. No go. Oh well, to hell with it. Let’s go do this thing and you’ll figure it out later, I thought. I found the girls and hung out at the beach waiting for the start to come. They were having a blast, but I was a ball of nerves.

Heck no, I'm not nervous! Geez, I hate race mornings!

After the pros started, I began the process of putting on the wetsuit. Once done, I hopped in the long line of participants to make my way to the entrance to the beach and the timing mat we had to walk across to activate our timing chips on our ankles. I immediately made for the water to acclimate and was really amazed to see how many people seemed to be foregoing this process. It’s no wonder there is always a person or two that hits the water when the gun goes off simply to turn around and quit because the water takes their breath away. There were lifeguards on kayaks about waist deep paddling back and forth to prevent us from swimming around. I suppose I can see how they didn’t want to get into a cat herding situation with us, but it didn’t offer us much room to try to get some strokes in. I swam parallel to them a bit to acclimate and then got out of the water for the National Anthem, which I could barely hear. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, was on the mike charging up the crowd but I couldn’t hear him either. When the gun went off, I didn’t hear that either. I just saw a wave of motion and dove in after them.

It's a small beach that the race starts on, so we're kinda packed in there like sardines.

I had started about 4 people back and was way right of the pack. Even though I tend to veer to the right when I swim I thought this was the best idea as I breathe to the left, and wanted to use that to see the pack as I swam and gauge my line off of the other swimmers as I breathed. In 2008, I got the shit beat out of me on this swim. 2800 other people all clambering for the same space is no picnic.

It's always amazing to me that we think this is normal activity to just jump in a lake with 2800 people and flail around for an hour or more....

But I expected my swim had improved over the years to put me slightly ahead of the brutal part of the pack. And it seemed to be working. I had just enough room all around me. I was pacing just fine and felt good in the water. I later heard those that swim in the 1:10 to 1:20 pack tended to get beat up the most, and I was ahead of that bunch. By the time I got to the first turn, I began to drift in tight against the buoy, readying myself for the slaughterfest that tends to happen as everyone vies for the tight space around the buoy. It never came – it was like I had a little safety bubble around me. But why was the lake swelling all around me?! Holy smokes, did a barge just go by? I was in some washing machine rollers of some sort between the two turn buoys and I can’t imagine what caused it, but it cleared up once I hit the straight away back to the beach.

That's a lot of folks getting ready to freeze to death together!

As soon as I got where I could stand up, my right calf locked up. Man, I never get that! What was that all about, I thought, as I ran under the swim finish arch and turned left to start my second lap. Oh geez, that better not come back to haunt me later in the race! I put it behind me and instead filled my head with the thought, “Did Mike Reilly just say 31 minutes back there?” I couldn’t believe that was right, because if it was I was swimming better than I expected of myself. I put the thought away for fear I’d learn otherwise after this next lap and just concentrated on swimming smooth. But I wasn’t. I kept veering to the right and rather than swimming a beeline against the buoys I was kinda arcing my way from one to the other. It was a little frustrating but I have to admit kinda typical of me. The washing machine was still out there at the turn buoys. Man, what is that coming from?! Then, when I hit the straight away back to the beach again, both legs locked up – quads and calves – and I stopped in my tracks and bobbed like a helpless cork. Massive Charlie horses. I panicked for a second, then willed myself to kick like crazy to see if that would free my muscles and somehow it did. But what was going on? Surely this was going to come back and haunt me later on and I’ve never been in this situation.

Swim Time: 1:05:57

I came out of the water, got my wetsuit yanked off by the strippers, grabbed my T2 bag and headed into the men’s tent. My hands were shaking from the cold and my teeth were chattering, but I skipped the arm warmers and the gloves I had packed in the bag. I had packed those items as an “on-the-spot-decision” based off of feel and they just didn’t make the cut. I fiddled with my bike shoes, and the heel of the right one flipped over on itself and I messed with it for what seemed like minutes as I muttered curses under my breath. The guy that sat next to me was very vocal about not being able to work his hands. He called for a volunteer to get him geared up. I think I said something like, “I hear ya brotha” and then took off. As I ran I shoved my coin purse of salt tablets, Powerbar chews, and Gu Roctanes in my jersey pocket and clipped my race belt around myself. No issues with grabbing the bike and taking off, though I did do a bit of a slip on the pavement in my bike shoes. Sorry, folks, I didn’t go down though in front of the crowd.

T1 Time: 4:47

Leaving on the bike, I caught a quick glimpse of Ginger and some of the other family in Tricred Red but I didn’t see who else was there. My teeth were chattering, my arms were cold, my feet had no feeling, but I knew all that would pass. I began banking some time – not really going too hard, but simply taking advantage of the first 20 miles of flat(ish) roads before the hilly section began.

But I didn’t feel……….right. There was no fire, no voice in my head smack talking, nothing. I was averaging over 22 mph, which was good but all the while I was struggling to psych myself up. Somewhere around here a guy who could have been in my age group passed me wearing all pink. I didn’t like that, petty as it is. But he looked kinda big and I thought maybe he was going out too hard and I’d reel him in when I got my head screwed on right later. Coming back into town I hit the hot corner and just knew my dad would be watching from there – the same place he was in 2008. I caught a glimpse of him and waved and nearly ran up on the back of another competitor in the hot corner. That was close!

Hitting the hills, I became aware that that 25 tooth cog – my climbing gear – had opted out of the race. Whatever. Don’t need it. I assessed where I was in the hilly section, as I had taught myself to expect what I was personally calling the “Seven Sisters” – from the Computrainer rides it looked like there were 7 hills in a row in this section. But once through it I only recalled 3. So I felt good thinking there were fewer big hills than I prepared for.

This was right near the cabin we were staying at for the week on Hayden Lake. Beautiful place for a ride.

Coming to the turnaround, there was an old guy that had set up a collection of antique bikes for display and if I hadn’t been trying to have my best race ever perhaps I’d have stopped, because they were marvelous. He had a couple of pristine big wheel bikes even. Sorry I had no way to get a picture of this. And somewhere on the course a lady was holding a clever sign that said, “Worst parade ever.” Lots of other signage, but this is all that was worth mentioning.

I hit the timing mat at the turnaround and saw my average was 21.4 mph (as far as I recall – those of you keeping up with me on the athlete tracker might have seen a slightly different number). I was fine with that. This would be a 5:15 bike split if I kept it up. This contributed to a short burst of gumption, and for a while there I thought I was out of my slump as I passed folks that had dropped me miles ago. Every now and then I stood up to stretch the legs and assess the cramping thing. Those cramps were there, looming, and I felt the threat of them popping into action the moment I started the run. They were not going away.

Then the gumption was gone, just as quickly as it had come. I came into town knowing I needed to hit the first lap in something like 2:40 to feel like I was going according to plan. I was way off. Maybe around 2:50. Now the brain began to do all kinds of horrible, ugly things. I found myself wishing for a flat tire or a busted chain so I could quit without blaming myself. I couldn’t quit in front of my family, but I kept struggling with how I could and somehow manage to live with it. I went back and forth between conceding to just finish the race in some sort of sorry time and telling myself that I could make up the deficit and get back in this thing. That latter idea just wasn’t coming into fruition on the bike though. The second time I came back into town I got passed by a chick. Salt on the wound, that’s for sure. She was hammering though! I totally envied her as she vanished up the road. Then I saw Angie, Ginger, and the crew and somehow my niece, Heather, was about 10 feet above the ground wearing a Tricredible uniform! She looked great as she threw her hands in the air cheering me on!

Once back in the hills, I heard a jet flying awfully low and craned my neck around to see what was going on. Some Navy/Marine cowboy was twisting his way through the mountains in his F/A-18 Hornet and I presumed he was showing off for a buddy maybe he knew in the race. Passing a dude on a hill, I said, “Somebody’s having a LOT more fun than we are!”

On a long straight away between two hills I saw Dr Bob Morrison coming the other way on his first lap. Dr Bob is 73 years old, the oldest competitor in the race, and a friend and inspiration from Greenville. He was more concerned about making the swim cutoff than the other two legs I expected, so I was elated to see he still had a horse in this race and perhaps was on course to get his own slot to Kona.

Coming to a downhill turn on the course, I took my second rolling pee. I can’t pedal and pee, so the bike slowed down considerably as I stood on the pedals. The spectators here were hollering, “It’s okay, just keep pedaling! You can do it!” They couldn’t see the trickle running down my leg into my shoe – they thought I was giving up! Damn, I’m not that bad off, I thought, and got back to pedaling as soon as I could. Once back in town, I couldn’t wait to get off the bike.

Bike Time: 5:33:25 (It hurts me something fierce to look at that number.)

T2 was uneventful enough. A volunteer helped me gear up, and kinda chuckled at me as I struggled to put my “Sissy Socks” on. These were also supposed to be an “on-the-spot-decision” but the calf cramps from before dictated there would be no question that I would use the compression socks. Olbas inhaler, salt tablets, Gu Roctanes in the jersey pocket, hat on, switch the glasses, a quick pee in the trough and off I went.

T2 Time: 3:25

My legs felt great! But some quick math told me I needed a 3:13 marathon to nail that 10 hour mark. Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen! I found Angie and crew in the start of the run and stopped to hug her and I told her, “Everything is going wrong. I’m just gonna try to enjoy the rest of this.” As expected, she lovingly pushed at me and said, “Just GO!!!” She HATES it when I talk negative in a race!!!! She is such a great motivation to me.

This is right after hugging Angie and telling her it wasn't going as planned, as she pushes me away to get back to running...

So, I did. I ran. I ran that first mile in 7:13 in fact. And it felt great! I knew it was too fast, but it felt awesome. I told myself to slow down but still ticked the next mile off in 7:15. After that I kinda lost track of where the mile markers were. But I had gotten back in that zone knowing Kona was pretty much out, but I could at least run this thing like I owned it. I thought about my buddy Carl Bonner, who would definitely let me know what a wussy I was if I gave up or resolved to “enjoy” any part of the race instead of giving it my all. He was right. You don’t work that hard to get here and then lollygag your way through an Ironman. You push until you suffer, and then you push a little more. So I found my gumption to get back into the plan of running the first half of this thing as if it were a half marathon, and then break the rest of it down as I needed to in order to get through to the finish. With no intention of doing so, I took a cup of Coke that was offered at one of the first feed stations. My preference is to hold off on this shot of caffeine until a meltdown, so as not to dilute its affects early in the race. I chased it down with water because of its diuretic affects and this became standard procedure at every feed station. I saw Dr Bob go by on the bike again and figured all was well on his Ironman assault.

Trucking along!

Somewhere in here a mountain bike came alongside me and I knew it was a top pro on his second lap. I can’t remember if he was in second or third, but he took FOREVER to pass me. I thought, “Dude, I’m only doing 7:15 at best, just GO!!!!” As he eased by me, I got to thinking maybe this really was a little too fast still and tried to slow down a tad more.

I got to the big hill before the turnaround and trudged up it and down the other side. I was passing LOADS of guys, but I couldn’t count a whole lot of 40-44 year old males. Seemed to me that most of them were 30-something. Coming back into town towards the turnaround, I came up on Angie and company and she yelled that I needed to keep going and that I was in 38th place in my age group. I shook my head at her in disbelief that she still thought I had a shot, but I kept motoring. I finished the first lap a couple minutes shy of 1:45.

In hindsight, I felt pretty good on the run. Musta been the Sissy Sox.

Now, I needed to start breaking this thing down because I was on the verge of doing so myself. So, I started with the idea of just getting to the point where the course gets out of town. I’d come up with a new milestone once there. But the first feed station I hit on lap 2 I altered the plan and walked through, taking sponges, Powerbar Perform, Coke, and water. I also started stuffing ice cubes down my shorts. It was fairly hot out there, and although I was managing well I was acutely aware that a meltdown was no more than one negative thought from happening. So, I decided to run to each feed station and walk through them taking in all I could.

Once out of town, I set a goal of reaching the weird industrial looking hotel on the hill, then making it to the base of the big hill at the turnaround. I was still blowing by tons of folks. Volunteers were shouting encouragement, calling me by name since it was on the race bib. But most of what I heard was along the lines of, “Go, Mr. Tricredible,” or “Nice jersey!” I wanted to thank every word of encouragement but was too exhausted to say so to all but a few of them. On the way to that last hill I came upon a little girl – maybe 7 years old – who had a microphone and was cheering on competitors something fierce. “You’re having a bodacious run! And if you don’t know what ‘bodacious’ means……..” she trailed off, probably not sure how she was going to finish that sentence. But I gave her a high five and told her I love her and her mom (I’m guessing) made one of those sounds women make when some sorry sap says something cheesy and romantic in a movie. At the base of the hill, it was a long line of folks walking up. I kept running thinking they were all being a bunch of wussies, but I’d been there before myself. Somewhere around here was the Vaseline guy from my race in 2008 (see that race report for the story). Pink guy came running down the hill at this moment, by the way. Boy was I wrong about him! I wanted to catch him but there wouldn’t be enough mileage to do so. I hit the turnaround at mile 20, popped my last salt tablets, and told myself to get up and over this hill and be done with the darned thing, and set my mind on the finish. With 3 miles to go, I took in my last bit of fluids knowing nothing was going to help me get to the finish at this point but what was already inside me.

The finishing straight-away was even more impressive than the last time I did this race. Sherman Avenue is a pretty big road through town, lined with lots of shops and restaurants, and they had it completely blocked off with barricades. It was like being in the Tour de France with massive crowds lining the barricades and you could see all the way down through the finish line, about a half mile away. Being downhill and your last few steps of the race, you can’t help but pick it up a little bit through this section. There was a guy a ways in front of me that I wasn’t going to catch, and I couldn’t see anyone coming from behind. I enjoyed my last few steps of the run, and coming into the finish chute I wasn’t going to do the high five thing with the spectators but I kinda veered to the left against the barricades unintentionally out of sheer exhaustion, and their reaction was to stick out their hands for a high-five. So, I obliged a few and then recentered myself in the chute. I crossed the finish line in 10:22:38 with a 3:35:06 marathon, a new PR for Ironman by almost 20 minutes and behind my goal by about the same margin.

I had the finishing chute to myself this year and soaked it up pretty good.

I had started the marathon 42nd in my age group and ran myself up to 26th place, and those weird cramps never were a factor. I threw my hands in the air to thank God for getting me through this, and let the volunteers guide me through the standard finishing procedure of handing me a hat and a shirt, ask me some typical questions to see if I was coherent, take my chip and get the obligatory finish photo with the IM backdrop. Angie was right there against the barricades and I went straight to her, buried my face in her shoulder, thanked her, shed a tear, and crumpled a bit. She was so proud of me and I was too. I didn’t do anything great really, and I certainly didn’t do what I had set out to do, but I sure as hell didn’t quit. I finished in 130th place out of 2800, and 26th in my age group out of 497 that started (only 376 finished).

It sure does feel good to be done!

After a quick couple pieces of pizza and some pictures with the family, I found out Dr. Bob didn’t make the bike cutoff and wasn’t allowed to finish his race. I hated it for him and was so excited to get to see him finish and now wouldn’t be able to. To be honest, I don’t know how I would have mustered the energy to do so, but there was no question that was where I intended to be. I happened on him in transition while getting my bike and we talked about the day for a little bit, and then Angie said, “Hey, there’s Craig Alexander,” and pointed to the winner of the race and 2 time World Champion getting his race bags. The three of us walked over to him and I said, “Craig, I know you’re tired and all but can we get our picture taken with you?” He was super nice and immediately asked how my race went, to which I said, “Not too good. I was trying to beat you.” We all chatted a bit. I wish I had offered him a spot on the Tricredibles team just to see how politely he would turn me down.

I got my picture taken with Craig Alexander, 2011 IM CDA winner and 2-time Kona champ!!

Sometime during the race, my mom managed to get interviewed by the local news. She aired at 11 pm that night and was quoted as saying, “I don’t know why anyone would want to do an Ironman!!!!” They showed my family and even had some footage of me biking by. My family had a great time at this thing, and Tammy thought the whole thing was a blast which floored me! It helps that CDA is a great place to watch a race, but as glad as I was that their day wasn’t totally miserable I figured we better get home and get this thing behind us so it wouldn’t be all about me anymore.

Mom getting interviewed by local news during the bike portion of the race. That's my niece, Heather, on the left playing with her hair. You can just make out that she had my race numbers written on her legs and arms in support!

I don’t know what happens next. The Kona monkey remains on my back and I don’t know if I’ll ever shrug that sucker off. The reality is that even if I had nailed a 9:59:59 Ironman I still wouldn’t have landed a slot. There were only 9 for the 497 dudes in my age group. 8 were swallowed up leaving one to roll down, and it was taken by the first name called out. He finished the race in 9:56:13. I’m not sure if missing it by 4 minutes would have been easier to swallow than missing it by 26. Of all the competitors that went under 10 hours, there were more in my age group than any other. Man, these guys are tough and I gotta say it’s humbling, humiliating, annoying and invigorating all at the same time.

My journey to get ready for this Ironman was as long and arduous as I may be capable of. We’ll see. I’m not signing up for another IM any time soon, but the fire is gonna still be there. At any rate, thanks for following this journey with me. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, and my intention was to have it die out right after the chance of going to Kona did or take you on the journey to the lava fields with me.

My wonderful family at Ironman Coeur d'Alene! From left: Mom, Cindy, Tammy, Dad, me, and Ginger.

All I know is I’m on vacation with a great family and the last thing I want to think about is triathlon. So, hang in there! I hope I was able to share something you can use, whether Ironman is on your radar or not. If it is, pay attention to that little blip in the corner. It may be me coming around for another crack at this thing!

Here's my video of finishing Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2011!!!!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Final Exam Week

Well, I feel like I've done my homework on this one:

Bike: 2968 mi

Run: 795 mi

Swim: 119 mi

Total Hours of Swim, Bike, Run: 360

Ab Ripper X: 69 times, sometimes twice, so the equivalent of over 20,000 sit-ups

Weight Lost:12.9 lbs

Domestic Arguments Related to Training: 1

Toenail Casualties: 2 bruised, 2 fatalities

Injuries: 0

If you were to put all that swimming, biking and running together that would be 26 Ironmans, with still enough extra running mileage for 4 more marathons and 23 more 2.4 mile swims. That’s about the equivalent of an Ironman every weekend so far for 2011.

Without a doubt, this season has been the hardest I’ve ever trained for a race. Foregoing wine and beer was one of the hardest sacrifices, and I can’t wait to pop open a cool one after the race. Eating right has been tough as well, and I remember a night when Angie just couldn’t muster up the energy to cook and brought home Orange Shrimp from the Chimanese joint. I wanted it, but just couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I shoved a small mozzarella pesto pizza in the oven instead and went to bed hungry.

I’ve kept an aerial photo of Kona on race day on my bathroom mirror and looked at it at least once a day to say, “I don’t know if I’m coming, but I did everything I could today to get there.” My work computer has a countdown in the corner of the desktop telling me how many weeks I have left to IMCDA. This thing has been on my mind every day throughout the training season, which I claim to officially have begun on March 1, but it really was in the making months beforehand.

And I’ve had to hear the words at work that I should put as much effort and passion into my job as I put into training. (I think I was supposed to take that as some sort of message to step it up, but instead I immediately thought something along the lines of, “Great! My training must be right on target if even the president is noticing this is all I do!”)

So, with just one week to go, I have to say that I have no idea how race day will go but I’ve done all I can. If the Kona World Champs slot doesn’t happen……well, I haven’t prepared myself too well for the answer to “what next?”……and I honestly haven’t pumped myself up into thinking I’ve got a good shot at this…….but that might be a tough pill to swallow given the effort I’ve given this. But if the stars just don’t align, I hope I can find pride in just knowing I gave all I had and accomplished some pretty cool things in the process (like a PR half iron – even though the swim didn’t happen, giving up the sauce for 4 months, or getting down to a level of fitness I’ve never seen myself at before).

Thanks for following this journey with me all these months and be sure to track me on the Athlete Tracker on If you just want to know if I’m surviving the day, put my last name in and it will show you the last timing mat I’ve crossed. If you want to see if that Kona slot has my name on it, track males 40-44 and it should show you what place I’m in throughout the day. I figure I need to come in no higher than 9th to be assured a spot, - 10th might earn a roll-down. That’s out of 497. Ugh. Other than that, please send me all the good energy you can on race day! There will be suffering! Let’s get this fun over with!!!!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Race Day Nutrition

If I remember right, my heart rate monitor told me I burned around 10,000 calories the last time I did Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2008. You can’t take that much in during the race – a calorie deficit is inevitable. But you have to dial in your race day nutrition as best you can so you don’t run out of energy out there on the course. With nearly zero science behind this, but a pretty good amount of trial and error and experimentation, here’s what I’ve arrived at as my race day nutrition for Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2011:

After a couple of web searches it seems the general belief is that one can consume an average of 250 calories per hour during endurance racing, with the high being around 400 calories per hour. It’s much easier to consume these calories while cycling than running (of course, you can’t at all while you swim). That said, it looks like I have about 480 calories per hour planned on the bike for this race. Now, I should clarify that the chart above is what I am making available to myself for the race, not necessarily everything that I will consume. I figure I’ll probably actually ingest only about 80% of this, so on the bike it looks more like 385 calories/hr and on the run more like 230 calories/hr. I’ll respond to this post-race to share how it all "went down."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturdays Hurt Something Fierce.....

Last long brick...........that just happened. I set out at 8 am this morning for a 120 miler followed by a pansy ass 6 mile run. I'd been dreading it all week......cuz I've had it! I'm done with long rides. I'm done with going to the boring ass Walmart parking lot in Zebulon and torturing myself over the same hills, out and back, for 100+ miles all by myself. I'm done with this freakin' heat. I'm done with singing "This is gonna good be a good life" (Onerepublic) over and over again, or "Take me, t-t-take me, fill me with your love juice, blah blah blah blah blah blah." I don't know the words. The beat kept me going though.

So, I did this one from the house - to get it over with quicker, to make it flat and fast, to see what I could do without the hills. Last week's 6 hr ride was in the mountains, and I didn't see a flat section anywhere anyway. It was just time to hammer out here amongst the wheat fields and houses with Christmas lights still on them.

Phillip Rowan met me at mile 7. He didn't like it when I showed up with the aero helmet on spitting that this wasn't going to be a pleasure cruise and I meant to hammer. "Well, you should already have confidence after the half iron you did the other week!" he said. I joked that I wasn't going for confidence.......I was going for arrogance. (that's another story) I gave him a chance to pee, cuz I wasn't planning on stopping for that, and we rolled west.

It wasn't fun. At all. I willed myself not to be social. I don't know what Phillip was thinking about back there to pass the time. "This is gonna be a good life......" kept rolling in my head, and some '80's song I can't remember.

We were on some horribly boring roads. I had chosen highways over country roads so we'd have the right of way and fewer possibilities of hitting stop lights or signs. I had no intention of letting anything disrupt the momentum. Traffic was a constant. Boredom was even moreso.

I think it was around mile 40 that Phillip turned around. We had just spent 5 miles on a country road that was chip-sealed and covered in sand. It was the kinda road that makes you wonder why you're out there at all. It got a lot lonelier after that. I had no idea where I was, but I was heading west still.

At mile 60 I turned around. Average pace was 22.0 mph. I stopped at a gas station for fluids and let the legs take a mile or so to wake back up. At this point, I wanted to drive the pace up as far as I could all the way home. So I turtled the neck to soak up every advantage the aero helmet was giving me and I pressed the pace. 22.1.........22.2.......back to to 22.2.........22.3........wait a minute. I just passed 100 miles at 4:29! This ain't the race! I'm dying out here, man. Reassess. Okay, nail 112 miles and you can ease up the last 8. Those next 12 hurt. 6 days out of the week and the thought that I have a chance at a Kona slot hits me several times all day long. But every Saturday, doing these long bricks, I hurt. I don't wanna. I want my mommy. I want to be in that redneck pool I just passed. I want a beer...and a whole lotta wine. I want my life back.

I hit 112 miles just before the clock hit 5 hours. Cooked and dried up, I set to slackin'....but called it a "cool down." I didn't see a pothole, nailed it, and both hands came off the aero bars and chest planted onto the arm pads. I don't know how I saved it. God intervened, I suppose. A couple visions of a broken collarbone, and I was over it. And I was out of water too, as well as any food.....which is a kind word for gel. I might have ingested more calories over the last 4 months from gel and liquids than from real food. If I started a gel brand I would call it Turboslop.

Once home, I needed to regroup before the molehill of a 6 mile run that had now become Mt. Suck It. Angie offered to load me up on recovery drink (it wasn't time), ice, and I'm-not-sure-what-else-cuz-I-was-out-of-it. She was trimming hedges in the heat - her face beat red. I was playing on my bike. I wanted to trim hedges. Neighbor dude was helping her, asking me if I was insane.

I drank a Diet Pepsi, an Ironman Perform, a bottle of water. I grabbed a glob of grapes and stripped to nothing. I got in a cold shower to wake me up. I took a dump. It had been turtling on me since around mile 80. Shorts on, shoes on, flask of ice water.....let's roll.

7:30 the first mile. Flask is leaking. Cheap piece of crap. 8:00 minutes the second mile. Bummed a water refill from a fireman cleaning his driveway. Crap. I didn't stop my watch. Now I gotta make up that time. No runs allowed over 7:30 pace and now I'm 2 minutes over. Next mile 7:00 pace. Next mile I dunno. I forgot where the marker is. Next one and what little math the brain is capable of at this point says a 6:50 will do it. Bam.....I'm home in 45:00.05. Nailed it. And cooked. Whathehayelwuzzat?!?!

Angie dropped me in the ice bath, loaded me up on Ultragen, and I cleaned off. I went to tell her I was hitting the sack and she passes me a plate o' pasta and a beautiful roast beast sandwich that woulda cost $14.95 at some posh bistro. Head on the pillow singin' "this has gotta be the good life.........."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Solving the Kona Qualifying Mystery

So, 4 weeks to go. And after this weekend a big sigh of relief will be certain, once I’ve licked this last big Saturday brick workout (120 mi bike/6 mi run) and my final long run of 20 miles on Sunday.

I wanted to spend a moment to explain how this Ironman World Championships qualifying thing is supposed to work. The WTC, which is the governing body of Ironman brand races, doesn’t make it easy to make sense of the whole thing. To qualify for the World Championship event in Kona, Hawaii in October you have to do one of their qualifying events – which there are over 25 Ironman events in the world (all of which are qualifiers), and there are a handful of Half Ironman events (70.3’s, named after the distance covered in the event) that have slots through grandfather rules of being under the WTC umbrella for so long. Each of these events has a certain number of qualifying slots allocated to them.

IM CDA, in particular, has 65 slots. These slots are awarded to the top pro and age group finishers. Final slot allocation is not determined until race day, and that’s based on the number of official starters and the number of official starters in each age group. So, if 10% of the starters are in the male 40-44 age group, they get 10% of those 65 slots. If nobody shows up in an age group, those slots go to the biggest groups in the same gender.

If you qualify, you have to accept your slot the next morning, which includes paying the $700ish fee for race entry right there and then. If someone qualifies and doesn’t accept their slot (maybe they’ve been before and don’t feel the need to go again, maybe they don’t want to spend the money, whatever) then that slot rolls down until it’s accepted. Typically, that doesn’t happen a whole lot and it doesn’t roll down very far if it does so it’s best not to count on this.

So, here’s how this thing is gonna have to go down for the Richter kid as best I can figure. I’m thinking there should be 8 slots in my 40-44 age group (I’m 39, but your race age is what you will be in December so that puts me at the age of 40), which is about the max – typically male 35-39 and 40-44 are the biggest age groups. More slots, but more competition for them. Again, the number of slots is a mystery until you’re at the race. Last year at IM CDA there were 377 40-44 year old males. The winner of that age group finished in 9:37:11. Geesh! I can’t do that. So, realistically, we’re not going with the hopes of topping the age group. The guy that came in 8th place finished in 10:03:26. 10th place went in 10:06:39.

Assuming all things are equal this year – like weather, for example – this is indicating I need to nail a 10 hour race to feel like I have a good shot at taking home a Kona slot. That is in no way a cakewalk for this cat. I’ve done an 11:24:38 at IM CDA in 2008, and in 2009 I went 10:40:37 at IM Louisville. Granted, I was learning the ropes so to speak, and was not putting any pressure on myself to nab a slot at those events. This time it’s all or nothing.

A 10 hour IM at CDA for me this year might look something like a 1:07 swim (2.4 miles), a 4 minute T1 transition, a 5:13 bike (112 miles), a 2 minute T2 transition, and a 3:34 run (26.2 miles). All of those numbers are guesses, somewhere between realistic goals and what I might call “best case scenarios.” If I’ve misjudged the bike course and am remembering it as being easier than it actually is, or vice versa, the numbers could change dramatically.

So, I really don’t know how this is going to go down, but I’m in the best Ironman shape of my life and believe that the chance of earning a slot is real. Or, I could flop and “just finish.” But back in 2008 when I first attempted this distance at this very same place, “just finishing” was actually a very satisfying goal. We’ll have to see if I can up the ante this time around……