race recap #6: and now all you gotta do is run (26.2 miles)…

Each and every time I’ve gotten off the bike in any race of any distance, I’ve always felt a sense of relief as soon as my feet hit the ground. While I’m not a particularly fast runner, I’m faster than I used to be and I’ve been running for a long time. So I’m comfortable running and I know what to expect and what I’m capable of when I tie on my running shoes.

The Ironman marathon was to be my third (funny enough, I never really intended to run more than one…); numbers 1 and 2 were in Portland in 2010 and 2012. So while I’m not exactly an old pro at marathoning, I had always been comfortable leading up to Ironman that I knew what it would take mentally, physically and emotionally.

Or at least I took comfort in the fact that I knew what it takes on a day when you wake up, roll out of bed and hit the road for a standalone 26.2 miles…

However, in the last few weeks leading up to the race, I was ever-so-slightly less than confident, primarily because of the fact that I had not gotten past 17 miles on my training runs. It was not for lack of trying, it just didn’t ever work out.

But getting off the bike on race day, I was happy simply because my feet were on solid ground (no more chances of mechanical problems like breaking a chain!), and with my swim and bike times being what they were (and the fact that they were DONE). And I had plenty of time to travel the “mere” 26.2 miles.

A volunteer was right there as I cruised into transition, waiting to grab my bike and rack it for me. I pulled my Garmin off the bike before handing it over and strapped it onto my wrist (remembering to press “lap” right away this time, so it would know I had stopped biking and started transition).

Upon entering transition, I grabbed my bag from the volunteer and found an empty chair in the tent. My volunteer dumped everything in my bag onto the ground and I started sifting through it. First things first though… we had to scoop everything up and move further into the transition change tent. I had picked a chair MUCH too close to the tent openings and the crowd would have seen me bare it all if I hadn’t noticed before I dropped my drawers.

Once we moved to a less visible corner, I had to change out of my bike shorts into some underwear and a pair of running capris that had treated me well in all of my long runs. I had hoped and hoped and hoped that I could run in my bike shorts, but only ever made it 16 miles and then a subsequent 13 before chafing in very uncomfortable and inconvenient places down under made the decision for me that I would most definitely be changing for race day. (TMI perhaps and my apologies, but it is the ugly truth of Ironman and sometimes long runs for that matter…)

So, underwear, capris, bodyglide along the sports bra seams and boobs, front and back and along my lower back where my race belt and capris waist seam would sit and anywhere else that might bounce and rub for the next several hours. Fortunately, lots of long runs logged will teach you where these spots most often are.

Bike shoes and socks off, clean socks and running shoes on. Bike helmet off, 70.3 visor on. I grabbed another little baggie with some more endurolyte capsules and another gel and grabbed a little 10 oz. water bottle to carry with me for the run and headed out the door.

Hubby was seconds behind me and we took off running through the crowd-lined streets of the park. Leaving transition, we saw our good friends Whitney and Conrad who were volunteering. Conrad had promised hubby a good smack on the bum for good luck and he delivered in spades. Our other friends and IronFans Ashley, Katie, April, Sarah, Luke, Tara, Brian, Kate and Danielle, and our parents and my brother, all of whom had spent their entire day faithfully following us around cheering, were also closeby, rooting for us as we hit the road.

Each of us had hoped to stay under 11:00 minute miles and our first two miles were about 10:30 minute miles, which, under the circumstances was really not too shabby. But just a few miles in and hubby confessed that he was feeling “weird” and lightheaded and just generally out of sorts. I think he was still very much being affected by getting so far behind on his nutrition on the bike.

So we slowed to a walk while we both tried to choke down another Gu (the last one of the day for me – thankfully), some water and some endurolytes. A few miles into the run, I also realized that my stomach was feeling icky…

It was pretty hot out the first couple of miles, but the aid stations were every mile and our primary goal for the first five miles or so was really just to get hubby back to feeling less weird and less like he might pass out and keeping my stomach from going into all-out revolt mode.

Now it was around this time, not more than 4 or 5 miles into the marathon that we saw a woman who had pooped her pants and literally had **it running down her legs. Let’s say this: it was a sight of sheer and utter disbelief and grossed-outness for both of us.


“That is DEEEEEEE-sgusting.”

“Why doesn’t she stop and clean herself up?”

“Do you think she knows?”

“She must not know…Right?”

“How can she not know?!”

“Should we tell her?”

“How do you tell someone something like that?!”

“How embarrassing…”

“Ewwwwwwww. Run faster, I don’t want to smell it…”

I had seen signs before – “Never trust a fart in an Ironman” and more directly, “Don’t poop your pants!”, but I’ll admit I didn’t ever really think twice about it. Or maybe I didn’t really understand until my stomach put me on notice. Or maybe it was actually seeing some poor unfortunate soul who had literally pooped themselves that really drove it home.

don't poop yourself...

Do we really need a reminder NOT to?

Now, here I will tell you that, despite my stomach feeling weird and on the verge of turning on me, I was NEVER ever ever in danger of pooping my pants. EVER.

But perhaps I can say that with such certainty because once we saw ol’ poopferlegs, we resolved to stop at every portapotty we even had a slight inkling we might want to use. Goal #1 was revised: Finish. But. NOT with poop on you!

So. Our pace dropped pretty quickly off of 10:30 but in large part due to stopping for restroom breaks every mile. Peeing. Or pooping. Or just stopping just in case. In the ABSOLUTE worst smelling portapotties on this great earth. Seriously. If you’ve ever been in raceday portapotties at the starting line, pre-marathon, anywhere, it’s like that. Only 100,000,000 times worse. There are no words. Seriously. It was awful. But remember the new, improved goal…According to my trusty Garmin, we spent a full 25 minutes of our marathon time not moving (aka, at portapotties, often in line). Not that it matters one bit.

In between pit stops, we waved and high-fived our friends we knew who were out on the course and by and large, everyone we knew who was doing the race was looking really good. Smiling. Feeling confident. Or… they were doing that when they saw us – faking it when we came into view – and going back to their falling-apart grumpy faces once we were past.

Thankfully after about 8 miles of jostling tummies, we discovered that Coke was somehow helping to settle things down on the gastrointestinal front. It was giving us both some needed energy (instant, easily digestible sugars that went down wayyyyy easier than a Gu or Hammer gel at this point) and somehow it was soothing the stomach. It’s bizarre and I don’t know why – I don’t need to know why. All that mattered was that it worked.

We settled into a strange pattern. Run 1 mile. Walk the length of the aid stations. Pick up (in this order for me at least):

1) Water – drink some and grab a 2nd cup to top off the little 10-ozer I was carrying to drink in between stations
2) A few sips of Coke
3) One orange slice – yum, so juicy and delicious
4) A couple of chips or pretzels – the salt really hit the spot probably both because my body needed it at this point and it wasn’t SWEET and OOEY-GOOEY like so many other things we had consumed that day
5) Ice – for the first 4 miles only while I was really pretty hot, this cup was dumped into my sports bra.
6) Chicken broth – Hubby started drinking warm chicken broth around mile 8 or so and around mile 10 or 11 or 12, I finally decided to add chicken broth to the mix. Even though it sounded gross, it was also quite tasty.
7) Endurolyte capsules – As you may recall, I carried these and took 2 every hour for the course of the entire day.

Once we cleared the aid stations, we’d run till the next one.

Looking back, the combination of things I was putting into my belly – though miniature amounts at a time – is slightly horrifying and disgusting. Under normal circumstances, I think they would not sit well together. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach turn just a tad. But somehow, the combination of things worked. It kept me moving, heck it kept both of us moving. And it kept my stomach from mutinying. Magically, after about 9 miles we discovered we no longer needed EVERY single portapotty (which was a huge relief since we had probably each hit 6 or 7 of the 9 that we had passed).

By this time, we were a couple miles out from hitting the downtown core where our friends, family and thousands of other spectators were cheering close to the halfway point. Time to perk up, pick up the pace just a smidge and act like this thing ain’t no thang.

We hit our special needs bags at mile 13 and I picked up some salt and vinegar chips I had stashed for myself. Hubby changed his socks, which made him SUPER happy as he loves new socks. And these were new, clean and dry unlike the ones he changed out of…

We saw our family and friends and high-fived and super-sweaty-hugged them as we boomeranged the turnaround corner and headed back out for round 2. First 13 miles was about 2:45 – certainly nothing to write home about but I realized that if we did the same thing again, we could be back (and perhaps most importantly, DONE) by 9 p.m. – before it got dark. Somehow, this seemed like a mark we should strive for (though I don’t think I verbalized it yet…).

With everything that we were managing/dealing with, the first half of the run went by really pretty quickly. In my head, that is. Well, of course you know that was not going to last.

You hear about the walls in marathons, right? Well there are walls in Ironman too. Only there are more of them, they are big to start with and get bigger and bigger and bigger as the day goes on.

Leaving town, around mile 17 or 18 is where we really started to see some apparent carnage around us. Aside from the lady who pooped herself (which one may or may not call a “wall” but I would definitely qualify as carnage), there were people walking, staggering, stumbling, even some crying.

Some had their eyes fixed towards the sky – I can only assume they were looking for some sort of help or inspiration or divine intervention from above (probably most requests involved sending help in the form of a winged angel to scoop them up and carry them the rest of the way). There were people stretching, sitting or laying on the sides of the road without the strength or willpower or energy to keep moving.

Somehow we distracted ourselves with sub-goal #1a: Just keep moving forward (sans pooping); and new, unspoken sub-goal #1b: make it back by 9 p.m.

Hubby starting hurting around mile 20 – it was around this time when he started getting adamant about me leaving him and us finishing the race separately. That was the wall talking crazy talk. And also his hammies, which started cramping and acting up.

We had a few grumpy miles, but I was determined to see this through. Sure, we had planned to run our own races and meet up after, but now that we’d come so far together and we were so close, I thought it would be super cool to have our first Ironman photo be of us crossing the finish line TOGETHER. Plus, he had seen me through soooooo many races before when I was hurting – and actually nearly literally pulled me through in some cases – it was the least I could do to stay with him. But this did not make him particularly happy.

Then there was also the other fact, which is that I don’t think that you could’ve paid me to move any faster. He was worried about holding me back but he wasn’t. Not in the least bit. He didn’t believe me.

Mile 21-23 came and went with us still trucking along with stretch breaks interspersed… our pace slipped just a tad but forward progress and still, poop free. (#winning, yeah?).

Around mile 24 hubby’s hammie cramped up again, and he grimaced and told me again to just go, perhaps most convincingly here. I had a brief thought, looking at his face, that he was at this time seriously considering walking the last two miles. Crap. At that exact time, a lady we know saw us and yelled at him, “oh its only 2 more miles, suck it up!” Now, we don’t particularly like this lady a whole lot. And honestly, I’m not really even sure it registered for him who had yelled that. But it worked. He sucked it up.

The last two miles, I don’t really remember much about them. Honestly, sticking together and being worried about hubby’s issues distracted me a lot from dwelling on my own too much. Selfish to say, but it made the entire run go by faster for me.

Before we knew it, we were on Sherman Avenue, the last 8 block stretch of the entire race. And the street, true to form, was absolutely packed with people.

I’d talked to a lot of people who had finished Ironman before and they all said to take your time on Sherman. Don’t rush it – take your sweet time. Soak it in, they said. All of those people are cheering their (sometimes very drunken) little heads off and they’re cheering for you! Yelling your name! Giving you all the cowbell you could ever want. Telling you you’re their hero.

You’re a freakin’ rockstar, they said. You will never get this again (until you do your next Ironman…)

And its totally true.

I’ve been at a total loss for the past two weeks, trying to explain what Sherman Avenue was like.

It was complete and total sensory overload. Everything that people had told us it would be and so much more.

Thousands of people cheering at the top of their lungs.

People screaming your name.

Lights flashing.

Music blaring.

Welcome to the party.

Hubby and I spent the last blocks of the race beaming from ear to ear. And alternating between almost crying and laughing big incredulous laughs. Completely overwhelmed. And in total disbelief.

We high-fived some more people who were lined up along the last few blocks of the course. Tried to recognize faces amongst the crowd and we were able to pick out our friends and up a few blocks, our family thanks in large part, to these incredible Dr. Seuss-like hats that our moms had made and were wearing. Only instead of red and white, they were bright yellow and had been decorated in glowsticks and windmills and shiny curly ribbons. They were up in the bleachers, so we smiled and waved and blew kisses.

Mike Reilly on the microphone.

And then?


Holy crap. We made it. I gave hubby a goofy smile as we crossed the finish line and I gave him a sweaty, delusional smackeroo on the lips before we were shooed off the finish line by volunteers.

We did it! Unbelievable… except we have the big shiny medals to prove it!



race recap #5: 112 miles of mediocre, but forward, progress…

For as cocky and confident as I am in the water, I know that once we hit dry land, all of those hard core bikers who can barely swim go whizzing past me like I’m not even moving. It’s true. I’ve done studies. Lots of them.

Sometimes people tell me they are jealous of my mad swimming capabilities. And I just laugh because, well, I am crazy jealous of their mad biking abilities. It makes wayyyyy more sense to be badass at biking than swimming. It’s a much longer event in any triathlon and you can really make up a lot of time really quickly. Ironman is no different from any other triathlon I’ve done.

If I had a dollar for every time a biker passed me and said, “hey, nice swim,” I’d be able to buy a new tri bike to make me go faster. Seriously though, all I can hear in my head is “hey, nice swim… (too bad you’re not a faster biker!)! True story.

So. If there is one thing I have learned from triathlons, it is to swim like heck. And then, be humble (once out of the water…).

The bike is where I’ve struggled the most. And it is also where I have the least experience. I’ve been swimming my whole life and running pretty much since my high school volleyball coach made our whole team sign up for a 5K run (which was just about the longest 3 miles of my life). So whereas I’d swam 2.4 miles nearly a year ago and run 2 marathons previously (and countless half marathons), I only rode 112 miles once. Just a few weeks ago.

One of the issues is my lack of skill/ability/confidence on hills. I spent this year training to go UP but never would say I’m an amazing climber. Just ok. Let’s face it, I trained to go UP, which was hard enough. I didn’t train hard to go up FAST and there is a difference.

And going downhill, it takes me some time to build up the confidence on each and every different descent. I rarely descend in the aero bars – I like to have the brakes nearby. I’m terrified of crashing my bike. And those skinny road tires can be squirrely. So I’m a chickenshit compared to many others who will just tuck and go, screaming down the hill at 50+ mph.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot of room to grow as a biker.

Leading up to the big day, I fully anticipated a looooooooong day of biking. My reasonable guesstimate had me spending between 8 to 8 and a half hours on the bike to travel the 112 miles.

Now, before you go and do the math, you are correct… that is incredibly slow. In my defense, there are a few hills to conquer. Here’s the elevation profile from my test ride a few weeks before the race:

IMCDA bike elevation garmin 06.01.2013

IMCDA bike elevation garmin 06.01.2013

Getting out of the water, I felt good. Being out early always makes me feel a little urgent. Frantic. Quick, get out of transition, get out in front of people. Get riding. (So you can hurry up and be passed? I know, right? It has never made any sense to me either.)

The first leg of the bike course runs through town and out along the lake. It’s beautiful and mostly flat and fast and there are a lot of people around – spectators and other bikers. Then, all too soon, you leave town heading south on Highway 95 – away from all of the people and up into the hills.

I realized two things pretty quickly. First, I noticed that my aero bottle was no longer velcroed in at all and was jiggling out of its holder with every bump. I held it in, kept moving and tried to decide what to do. The obvious answer is STOP… but this was not necessarily the course of action I was going to pursue immediately until I realized that my Garmin was tracking speed and time, but not distance. That was what made me decide to pull over and stop.

I fixed my bottle (good news, now I didn’t have to hold it for the next 109 miles…like that was even a feasible option) and fiddled with my bike computer and the little piece that is on my bike spoke to no avail. I jumped back on, not wanting to waste too much more time (look at all of those people passing me! though right now I AM actually standing still) and chose instead to scroll through my Garmin options on the tiny little screen whilst 1) travelling 18-25+ mph, 2) avoiding near certain collisions with other bikers going 24-34+ mph 3) trying to avoid hitting any spectators foolishly trying to cross the street in front of bikes moving that fast, and 4) trying to remember which menu screen would take me to the place where I could check and reset my satellites, etc.

I know. It was a perfectly logical way to go. Multitasking on a bike. Probably as bad or worse than texting and driving. I know.

Fortunately, I avoided catastrophe. But unfortunately, my Garmin appeared to be having sympathy pains attached to my hubby’s watch, which, as you might recall, suffered a busted screen and come to find out later, made it through the swim only to die about 1:45 into the bike.

No major hurdle for me…my watch still told me how long I’d been out, what time of day it was and how fast I was travelling and there were aid stations every 10 miles. It was only an inconvenience – we’d been training on the course since April and I knew pretty much how long it would take me to get from point A to point B.

I had a quick and easy first 56 mile loop. Much faster than I had ever done it, which was both fantastic and troubling news. Everything I had read going into the race said to take it out easy on the bike. Everyone I talked to said that scorching your bike would never pay off and you would blow up on the run.

I was trying to stay positive and in fact, I was loving how quickly I was moving along the course – this was fun! But in the back of my mind, I had a more than slight concern that I was going to seriously blow up… maybe on that last 2 mile hill at mile 100. If not then I would definitely blow up on my run. Trouble.

As you might know, during an endurance event like Ironman, your body needs replenishing but can only digest between 200-300 calories an hour. Get behind and you pay for it when you run out of gas. And you can’t make up for it – take in more than you can digest and you’ll likely end up with GI issues that can haunt you. Nutrition and fueling can definitely make or break you on race day.

Aid stations were reliably every 10 miles and were fully stocked with wonderful, helpful, cheerful volunteers, water bottles, bottles of Ironman Perform (like Gatorade), Bonk Breakers, Chomps, Gus, bananas and of course, porta-potties. At each one, volunteers were stretched out in a line, yelling out what goodies they had. You slowed, pointed to the volunteer who had what you wanted and made eye contact, and snatched the goods on your way past. You could also ditch empty bottles and trash at any aid station (it was an automatic DQ if you purposefully ditched trash anywhere but an aid station).

I had 9 coworkers who had also signed up to do the race and my first pit stop was around mile 30, where I saw the friendly faces of some of my other nonracing coworkers who were volunteering.  Looking back, I think this is where hubby first caught up and passed me.

The stretch along Hwy 95 is hilly with a 2 mile uphill as you leave town and then mostly rolling mostly uphill until the turnaround. I have done enough training rides along this stretch to know that along with the slightly rolling mostly uphill of this section, you often get some headwinds to go with it to make it a little extra miserable. But we were lucky and the winds were quiet.

Honestly, my first loop was uneventful. Each aid station had phenomenal energy and there was enough bike traffic and chatter to keep you distracted. Course officials were patrolling to make sure no one was illegally drafting or blocking but I think their primary concern was with the people vying for cash prizes (in other words, not me!).

Once you hit the turnaround point to head north back into town about 4o miles into the 1st loop, it’s a fast 16 miles back into town. All of those rolling uphills turn into mostly rolling downhills. And the good news is that even though I’m not the fastest, most confident downhiller, I’ve been riding those downhills for long enough to be confident enough to cruise down them. I think I hit 40 mph or pretty darn close on one of them. But there were bigger people cruising right past me. Gravity.

After you cruised through downtown, back on the flats again, you headed out to pick up your special needs bag, which held cheeseburger #2 for me. Mile 65 was a happy one – more than halfway AND time to restock with new and exciting foods. And I got to see some familiar faces. I’ve worked with the volunteer captain for the bike special needs bag, Mike, on other non-Ironman things and before the race he told me where he’d be and had offered to throw my cheeseburger on the grill and warm it up. I didn’t take him up on it as I didn’t want to get “cold” or maybe more importantly, decide to order out for some fries and a milkshake and never get back on the bike. But I did stop long enough to restock my Perpeteum powder and reapply sunscreen on  my arms and shoulders and stretch my neck and back.

Leaving town again, you could feel the energy leaving the athletes. Everyone knew what was ahead. Hills. No fans. Just the quietness of our minds. It got quieter and quieter until about mile 80. You could literally feel the ginormous black hole that was swallowing entire athletes whole.

“I’m never going to make it back into town.”

“Holy geez, why would anyone sign up for this?”

“How am I going to make it another 42 miles AND back up that last big hill?”

Fortunately, I had friends and coworkers at the aid station at mile 90 and I knew that the turnaround was within reach. I stopped for a quick high-five and another porta-potty break. When I was racking my bike, I realized with excitement that my hubby’s bike was on the rack right where I had put mine! Hooray!

But that was quickly replaced with a sense of uneasiness as it sunk in that he is a faster biker than me and something must not be going well for me to have caught him. Uh-oh…no bueno.

I saw him coming out of the porta-potty and he waited for me as I just had a quick tinkle. We rode together-ish, back and forth for a few miles, but he put some distance between us as we hit the downhills.

Mile 100 hit and we all start climbing again. Of course by now, the sun is shining full bore. No breeze. Just bikers. Climbing.

Last hill before town so I’m feeling pretty good. Just 2 miles and then it’s all downhill. Training on the course was definitely an advantage and one of the major reasons hubby and I chose to do this course over, say, Ironman Canada, which is later in the year and would have given us much more time to train in the nice weather. I was probably the only person smiling on that hill and I’m only smiling because I had already ridden the entire 112 miles of the course this year and I knew, I just KNEW that if I had made it this far, I would make it up this one last stinkin’ hill for the last time.

High spirits.

That is, till I catch up to my hubby, a third of the way up the hill. He’s cramping and jumping off his bike to stretch his leg. Poop.

I can’t stop or else I will never get going again so I blow him a kiss, cross my fingers the cramp goes away and keep churning my legs. I counted to 100. Five times. One count every other leg. One count every third leg. Again, every leg. One. Two. Three. Four. Five… Ninety-nine. One-Hundred. One. Two. Three. Four.Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Seventy-one. Over and over and over again. Just to get my brain off the hill and off of worrying about hubby. At least until the top of the hill…

I make it and turn around to find that my hubby had jumped back on his bike again and had staved off the cramps at least long enough to make it up the hill. Talking with him for a few miles, I learn his nutrition had been a wreck since his watch died less than 2 hours into the bike. He had trained with the watch set to beep every 20 and 40 minutes, reminding him to eat and drink. Without a watch, he was floundering from the get-go, trying to gauge distance and time without a watch. He will tell you that he got some funny looks – in a world of Type A athletes who are trying to control every piece of the race day they can to have a successful finish, he was probably one of maybe 2 or 3 athletes who didn’t have a watch. I’m sure they were wondering what his deal was…

Anyway, we decide about 5 miles out to start the run together and go from there. It was no our initial plan to stay together but it seemed to make sense to keep each other company for a while. So down the hills into town.

As we come into transition, our family and friends are cheering for him – it’s like a homecoming parade. It was actually really comical. They weren’t expecting to see me right behind him so he’s soaking it all in and I’m like, “Hey guys, I’m here too!” Eventually they saw me…

I had anticipated finishing the bike in 8:00-8:30.

I finished the bike around 7:20, a full 40-1:10 faster than I ever thought I would. True it’s still nothing to write home about in the world of biking (I averaged about 15.3 mph over the entire course), but I was feeling darn pretty good about my day as I headed into my last transition.

race recap #4: two-point-four miles of epic open water speediness (aka, killin’ the swim)

This year’s Ironman CdA had a new swim start – called their Swim Smart initiative. You’ve probably seen photos of Ironman’s mass swim starts where there is a mssive wave of people running into the water simultaneously where they then proceed to duke it out, arms, legs, elbows, feet, and fists for a rowdy, aggressive and potentially dangerous 2.4 miles. Some people think this start is most epic. From a spectator’s point of view, I would definitely agree.

But let me tell you, I could not have been more relieved to learn about the revised start. And I say this as one 2318 athletes who started the race and as someone who is NOT afraid of long swims in open, chilly water (most days). And I say this as a strong swimmer who has mixed it up with the boys in numerous race day swim starts and swim drills and mass start practices. But I also say this as one of just 636 females who signed up to compete in IMCDA this year. Just look at these pictures and look at how many pinks caps you see…

green, green, green, green, green, green, pink!

green, green, green, green, green, green, pink!

before the start...

the beach beginning to fill up before the start…

swim start  5

And what do we know about boys? (Besides that they are bigger than me?) Boys are mean and aggressive. To each other, yes, certainly. No guy I know likes to be beat.

Now, put a pink cap on and go swim with the boys. They’re fine with it, really. They’ll play nice – they want to pat you on the head and console you that the swim is not going to be that scary and the water isn’t that dark and you’ll be just fine. Cute little girl. That is until you start swimming past them.

What do guys hate more than being beat? Being beat by a girl.

My swim time of 1 hour 10 minutes is not good enough to beat the pros, not even close. But it does put me in front of 75% of all the competitors.

And that means I beat A LOT of guys, some of whom got downright nasty when they realized it was a girl passing them. Grabbing, pulling and generally trying to swim over me. Some of it was probably an accident – absolutely, it comes with the territory of open water swims. But I have a hunch there were more than a few non-accidents. A handful of times, I did have to be more aggressive and take wider strokes to literally push people off of me.

The worst of it was in the first half of the first loop.

Anyway, I should back up. The new swim start went smoothly – no one knew quite what to expect, only that athletes were to “self-seed” like in a marathon. So each person would have 17 hours from the time they crossed into the water to finish the race. Volunteers held signs – 60 minutes, 1:00-1:15, 1:15-1:30, 1:31-1:45, etc.

self seeding

self seeding

Hubby and I had agreed to start the swim together and thought we’d seed ourselves at the front of the 1:15-1:30 mark. We had both swam the Coeur d’Alene Crossing last August, a 2.4 mile swim across the lake so we had a good idea of what our times might be. We figured I might be just a smidge faster than 1:15 and he might be around 1:20 so this seemed like a good plan.

Not knowing what to expect from the swim conditions and crowds, I had honestly told myself that as long as I was on the bike by 9 a.m. I would be “fine” (i.e. I would still probably make the cut offs throughout the rest of the day). For those of you who don’t know, the swim cut off for the 2.4 miles is 2 hours and 20 minutes. We were both confident that, excluding any extenuating circumstances (like getting hard-core kicked in the face and needing stitches or drowning), we’d be comfortably under that mark.

Mike Reilly

Mike Reilly gives some last minute instructions and words of encouragement. (Or possibly he’s just telling this guy next to him how to get to the restrooms…)

I found hubby on the beach near the warm up area and he had some pretty bad news (already). Someone had stepped on his watch and he hadn’t realized it until he got to the beach. The screen was cracked and neither of us thought it would make it through the swim, let alone the rest of the day. He didn’t feel like he had enough time to swim upstream to drop it off at his bike (at this point transition was closed anyways), so he was just going to have to keep his fingers crossed it would survive the swim and keep functioning throughout the day. (This was on top of the fact that he was competing with a broken wrist – an injury he had picked up just 16 days before race day when he took a tumble off his bike during a taper ride.) The watch issue would prove to be a really major complication and hurdle for him throughout the day (but more on that later).

We each took our turns “warming up”. The worst part of open water swims for me is often that initial shock of getting into the cold water and I find myself spending the first 500-600 yards slowing down my breathing and adjusting to the cold, especially as it hits the back of my neck. So my warm ups, including for IMCDA really only consist of putting my face and neck in the water and floating face down in the water for a minute, focusing on keeping my breath outwards slow and steady and calm. After I got out, we had a few minutes to hold hands and stand, in silence, surrounded by hundreds of others dressed in black neoprene wetsuits, inching up towards the start line as the people in front of us crossed the starting line and entered the water.

I was surprised at how calm I was – again, I think it had a lot to do with the revised start. I mean, just look how peaceful it looks.

the calm before the storm

the calm (wayyy) before the storm

crowds at swim start 2

When we got close, we kissed each other and wished each other good luck. And for some reason, my eyes welled up with tears. I’m really not even sure why. It was just one of many somewhat overwhelming moments where I realized how much we’d been through and sacrificed and put ourselves through to get to that point and perhaps realized that **it was about to get real and maybe also had a feeling about how much we both might endure throughout the next 13 or 14 or 15 or 16 or (hopefully not) 17 hours. I looked at hubby and he seemed a little overwhelmed too. I wiped the stray tears from my eyes (so as not to fog my goggles!), gave him another kiss and we were off!

swim start - under the arch and over the timing mat

swim start – under the arch and over the timing mat

I fought the crowds for the first half of the first loop and had some close encounters with fists, elbows and people trying to swim over me or pull me down. Right before we started, I heard Mike Reilly, the announcer, say that the left and right sides seemed crowded but the middle looked pretty open, so I decided to stay somewhere in the middle. I tried to stay wide on the turns as those get sloppy in any race.


After the 2nd turn, heading back into the beach, I noticed the sun was out and traffic seemed to clear up a bit so it was cruising time. I’ve already spilled the beans about my time – I was out of the water and running across the halfway timing mat on the beach just under 35 minutes with a dozen or so people. I heard my name as I passed over the mat and dove back into the fray for round 2.

The first part of the second lap was clear, but then all of a sudden we hit of all of the 1:45ers and 2:00+ers who had gotten in the water behind us. A few times, there was just a wall of people and no clear path through. I took more than one little detour  just to get around the slower crowds of people.

swimmers as far as the eye can see...

swimmers stretched out as far as the eye can see…

At the start of my 2nd lap, I also realized that my neck was burning, chafing on my right side. I cursed the stupid pocket sized bodyglide and tried to breathe mostly on the left (I’m an ambi-breather, haha, is that a term?!) to try to keep it from getting worse, but I had a good sized wetsuit burn-owwee by the time I was done with the swim.

Other than that, my second loop was just a tiny bit slower, just over 36 minutes for a total of just shy of 1 hour 11 minutes.I ran up onto the beach, through the arch and over the timing chip.

tick tock tick tock...

tick tock tick tock…

Wetsuit strippers are awesome. You take your top half off and lay down and they do the rest and pull you up and hand you your wetsuit and send you on your way in a matter of seconds.

The rest of the transition was pretty smooth, thanks in part to the dry run we had done when we dropped off bags and in part thanks to the volunteers.  I found the change tent and ventured in. It was still fairly quiet, not too crowded yet and people seemed in good spirits. No crazy negative war stories. So I found a chair easily and a volunteer came right over to help me with whatever I needed. I was pretty low maintenance though. I opted to leave my jacket and sleeves behind, so all I needed was some chamois cream, my socks and bike shoes, my race bib, and my helmet and sunglasses and I was on my way in what felt like a jiffy (but was really more like 9 minutes…)!

As I ran towards my bike, I could hear the people along the transition fence cheering but it is so hard to distinguish whether it’s people you know or not until a familiar voice yells your name!

With that, I jumped on  (ok, gingerly and cautiously mounted) my bike (I have been known to be a little too over-eager with this part only to get tangled up and nearly eat it right in front of all of those fans – trust me, it’s way more embarrassing to do that than to take an extra 30 seconds to gracefully avoid any unnecessary close calls with the pavement) and had only a mild sense of trepidation for the next 112 miles…