||Ironman Coeur d'Alene
||Sunday, June 27, 2004
||Coeur d'Alene, ID
||Triathlon - Ironman
||Male 35 - 39
||161 / 1627
|Age Group Place:
||33 / 327
||"Groundhog Day" -or- "Mission Accomplished"
Ironman USA Coeur d’Alene
Sunny, Light winds (<10 mph) from various directions, 81F
COST / BENEFIT ANALYSIS
$400 entry fee. $130 motel room two miles from race site for six nights...but it had unlimited wireless internet connectivity. $2.50 round-trip METRO from Clarendon to WFC. $14 round-trip Washington Flyer bus to Dulles. $300 round-trip airfare IAD-GEG. $80 for one-way oversized bike case charge. (Wasn’t charged on the return trip) $30 one-way Spokane airport shuttle. (Visiting parents provided remaining transportation for the week)
Goodie bag with some decent stuff (license plate frame, water bottle), Pre-race carbo dinner. Voluminous volunteer support and well-stocked aid stations. Thousands of spectators cheering. Unlimited post-race pizza. Post-race massage. Cheezy white finisher’s T-shirt. (The one sold by the store is nicer.) Finisher’s medal. Post-race awards dinner. Short commemorative DVD video.
THE COURSE (each leg two loops)
Swim: Beach start into 68F lake. Clockwise triangular course approximately 800m-200m-900m in length per side.
Bike: Technical for an IM. Three climbs of significance per loop, but bulk of the course is flat to gentle grades. Wind blows in multiple directions.
Run: Modified double-out-and-back through downtown and along the lakeshore, predominately on black asphalt with little shade. Spectacular downhill, wide, six-block straightaway finish down CDA’s signature downtown street.
This was the target race for the whole first half of the 2004 season…the race where I would fulfill the last goal that I had for this season…qualifying for the Ironman World Championship. I certainly would have accepted the honor of qualifying had I finished eight seconds faster at the Eagleman, or won the lottery, or had a super performance last November at IM Florida. The idyllic setting, however, for the fairy tale to come to life was in North Idaho, in front of my parents and friends from the Northwest. From the RATS rides in early January and running through the snow in February, though places like Valdese NC, Cecil County MD and Skyline Drive, the focus was a meeting with destiny on June 27 in Coeur d’Alene.
This was my third Ironman, and the final lead-up to it was mostly relaxed. I did have a couple issues. After unpacking my bike from its first EVER plane ride, I stripped the threads on the frame that hold the seat post bolt. Not wanting to have a free spinning saddle, I spent most of Thursday morning getting the bike techs to find a workable solution. They got it right on the second try. I also woke up Friday to a small-scale sore throat. I don’t know how I caught it, but it seemed like simply an irritation that I could control with gargling. Other than that, I made it to the start line much more prepared for the day than either of my previous two Ironmans.
THE SWIM (58:23) [27:52 / 30:31]
Off to a decent start given an 1800-person mass start. I broke away from the beach clean but not into open waters. Bodies were in all directions, but that didn’t bother me since most of them were going about my speed. We never swam directly into the sun, but I was fighting glare most of the time. Going out, I’m turning my head into the sun to breathe. Coming back, I’m having trouble picking out landmarks and the intermediate buoys with the glare off the mildly wavy water. I finish the first loop in 66th place.
The second loop held more of the same. Some difficulty navigating by sight and some close quarters with other swimmers. I’m having a little more difficulty navigating back to shore, as are some others near me. Nearing the end of the swim, it starts to get more crowded in my patch of water. In one instance, I have two swimmers on opposite sides of me veering straight into me. All three of us are about to collide and as the middleman, I’m out of options. My right arm is recovering out of the water and it’s destined to hit the purple swim cap of the swimmer to my right. That I could not avoid. The next thing that followed was the palm of my right hand landing flat on that purple cap and pushing it down into the water. Although it was a natural extension of my swim stroke and I was becoming the meat of a swim sandwich, I immediately regretted drowning my associate…for in this part of a triathlon it’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and my kindness was returned in spades.
It remained congested to the shore. I sensed that my swim time wasn’t that fast, only because I wasn’t expecting so many people to be finishing with me. As it was, I’m the 99th person to finish the swim.
The path through T1 is a bit serpentine. Run down the beach, then up steps to the boardwalk, down the boardwalk, U-turn into the transition area, strip suit then grab transition bag, then another U-turn into changing tent. After a quick change, out back of tent, then left along outside of bike racks to row 8-9. Self-service bike pickup. Then continue running with bike to end of row and along other side of transition area to the exit gate.
Just before entering the changing tent, I saw a running clock showing 1:00:something. I wasn’t trying to work the swim hard, but I was expecting a better time than an hour. Forget it. Swim’s over. New Race. Just like the movie “Groundhog Day”, we’re going back to square one.
THE BIKE (5:14:11) [2:30:14 / 2:43:57]
I wanted to be somewhat conservative during the first hour. At IM Florida, I thought I was too conservative early, so I wanted to work a little harder, but not as hard as I did two weeks earlier at the Eagleman.
I felt O.K. early and started moving through the field. I wasn’t too concerned about passing, or being passed, this early, but I did sense that I was passing many more people than were going by. The first 15 miles of the course is an out-and-back section. I cross paths with the leaders about 10 minutes in front of me, so I feel fine…the swim must have been slow for everyone.
I don’t waste my extra energy going up the early hills, but I do feel like I’ve got a horse that wants to run on the flats and downhills. I reach 20 miles somewhere around 54-55 minutes. Comparing that to flat Florida where I reached 20 miles at just over an hour, I’m either working too hard or I’m feeling too good.
The last of the hills is also the last of the first quarter of the ride, and I start to pick it up in quarter #2. I’m passing riders with regularity. Over time, the density of riders in front of me decreases, but I’m still making relative forward progress. I’m using the turns and tailwinds to sling myself in front of other riders.
At around mile 47, I see my parents for the first time. Mom gives me an unusually excited reaction to my presence. I sensed that she didn’t expect me to come though so soon.
About five miles later, I approach the caravan piloting the woman’s leader through the course. I pass her, but the caravan stays in front of me and leads ME through the downtown and the huge crowds onto the second lap. I come through midway in 2:30. I was 2:31 in Florida. (It would be the 10th fastest first-half bike split overall)
A few miles later, I catch up to another pair of riders, and we remain close to each other as we head toward the turnaround at the special needs bags at mile 64. I’m counting the number of leaders as they pass heading back to town, but the number is very light. VERY, VERY light. I’ve barely counted to “10” when I come around the last curve before the cul-de-sac. WOW, I’M IN THE TOP 15! Even better, the three of us are 11th-through-13th coming into the Special Needs Area.
We now work our way back to town and I move up into 11th a few miles later on the flats just outside the city. I’m trying to sustain my level of effort from the second quarter of the ride, but I’m not sure that I can do that, especially with more hills coming. I zip through town and around the climbing 270-degree loop up to U.S. 95 heading towards the hills. I look back to see that an entourage is now close behind me. I’m not a hill climber this day, so I’m resigned to letting riders catch me on climbs while I make time on downhills and flats.
At this point, though, I’m starting to have difficulty staying consistent and my average HR is dropping a good 10 points from where it was earlier. Now, the ride is getting tough. I fell back to 18th almost immediately in the hills. The woman’s leader caught back to me at the end of the hill section. I knew now that I couldn’t get to the finish with as much strength as I used earlier. With the flats coming up and leading all the way to the finish, it was time to re-baseline the effort output. Go back to square one again. Seven AM. Groundhog Day. Strike up Sonny and Cher.
I continue to drop a place here and there, but I work hard to stay in the game. I’m still doing lucid mathematics in my mind. I came into this racing thinking that a 5:20 bike split would be pretty good, and I’d achieve that as long as I stayed focused. Maybe I would feel all that great by the end of this ride, but I’d still be up in the standings.
I was feeling fairly good coming into T2. I was confident that I would have a good run. I figured that I was about 24th place at the end of the ride.
I’m met by a hoard of bike catchers. They’ve got my bike almost before I can get off. At the change tent, I’m met by one volunteer and his young son. The volunteer lays out my stuff and I start putting on socks and shoes. He asks me if I want to change race number belts (I had the “Frost” number on the belt that I wore on the bike – The “Dan” number was waiting for me at T2), and I said yes. This kind gentleman then offered to put it on for me while I continued dressing my feet. He’s trying to reach around my waist while I’m bent over putting on shoes. Will not work and doesn’t look good in front of the young’un. I assume the full remainder of dressing chores, take the wet towel from the kid, thank my helpers, and leave the otherwise empty tent. I let the sunscreen ladies have their day, evacuated the bladder (something I forgot at Florida and was determined not to forget to do here), and was on my way.
THE RUN (4:22:44) [6:39 / 1:02:35 / 1:09:46 / 1:07:45 / 56:02]
The strategy was to “relax” for the first three miles. Just run, not hard, but comfortably. I make it to the first turnaround and then the mile 1 marker at just over seven minutes. Comfortably. Off to a good start.
Then, my lower back seized up. It got really sore really fast. How did that happen? Why did that happen? I wasn’t sure at all, but what I did know was that suddenly it hurt to run just when I’m heading back towards T2 and am eye-to-eye with my pursuers. I made it back past T2 to the mile 2 mark splitting around an 8:30. Not good. The third mile is uphill and the back hurt even more going up. I didn’t know what could be done to stop the pain aside from stopping and trying to stretch it out. O.K. New Plan. New Race. “I’ve Got You, Babe!” Groundhog Day. At least, the course is only uphill half the time.
The lower back didn’t get better and mile #3 turned out to be a 10-minute mile. From a competitive, qualify-for-Kona standpoint, my race was over. I’m still aiming at this point to finish with a respectable time. Actually, I also pressed on as best as I could because I wanted this ordeal that became suddenly painful to be over quickly. But, I still had 23 miles to go.
I pass my mother at mile 11, who asks me how I’m doing. I reply, “Survival Mode”. I don’t remember her response, but it was humorously obvious that she didn’t know what I meant.
My stomach wasn’t working altogether either. Nothing that I tried seemed to process cleanly. I’m surprised when my sphincter signals to my brain an urgent need to relieve bowel pressure going by T2. I wince my way to the next portajohn. Have a seat. Much more than I ever expected comes out the anal port. This was a big shock, since I had consumed only the equivalent of three salt tablets, gels, Gatorade and water. No solids whatsoever. This boggled my mind. However, I left the portajohn at mile 14 feeling like a New Man. I’m humming to the sound of Sonny and Cher. It’s a New (Groundhog) Day! 7AM. Feeling much better…even though my body is still locked into 10-minute mode.
My first time prediction after the back seizure issue arose was somewhere between 10:35 and 10:40. Actually, the only math that I was doing was to figure out what my finishing time would be if I 10ed-out from wherever I was. For many miles, I continued to estimate a 10:30-high finish. The convenience stop at mile 14 added a few minutes to the estimated so I knew for quite a while that this would be a 10:40 +/- day.
The back pain started to be a non-issue at mile 20. I was still chugging out 10s, but probably more out of fatigue and repetition rather than back pain. I actually sensed that I was running a little faster, but not noticeable so according to the watch. I was beginning again to pass runners, both first and second lappers. After another sphincter signal forced a stop at mile 23. I was ready to take it to the end. Almost. My urine flow was 24-karat shiny, so I made the immediate mistake of chugging down 1.5 full cups of straight water. The water just stuck in my gut. A few minutes later, I needed to walk for a minute and attempt to relax the diaphragm. That turned out to be a good call and the stomach bloating abated. I survived the reminder of the run on diluted coke.
Despite my pain, fatigue, and disappointment, I was in a very good mood all the way down the six-block straightaway downhill finish on Sherman Avenue, CDA’s signature downtown thoroughfare. I was giving high-fives everywhere. I was cheering with the pom-pom girls (who showed up everywhere on the course). My smile was as wide as it had been for much of the day. It would have made for good television had IronmanLive.com been working.
The performance that I had at Ironman Coeur d’Alene did not meet my high expectations. Why that was, I’m still trying to decipher. It begs to ask a bunch of questions that have some validity: Was I tripped up by catching the local crud? Did I race too much in the Spring? Was racing all-out at Eagleman two weeks earlier a mistake? Did I not eat enough early in the bike? Did I go out too fast on the bike? I’m still trying to sort all of that out.
ANGEL OF DEATH?
While my race wasn’t as good as I had expected it to be, the races of many of my friends were even worse. There were some who had great days, but if you knew me, your day was difficult at best. Some examples:
Corey McDaniel: Something about that Jacuzzi suite brought out some of the best in Corey. Maybe that Skyline Drive training also. Lowered his PR to sub-14 hours with a steady effort.
Former Governor Gary Johnson: So, Corey introduces me to this guy from New Mexico who’s talking about skiing 110 days this year in Taos and climbing Mt. Everest. He doesn’t seem to thrilled about his chances in the race, though, given that he lost parts of two toes to frostbite on Everest. “That was the Governor?”, I asked Corey later. “I didn’t recognize him with the shoulder-long hair!” Manages to finish in just over 13 hours, even with only 8.5 toes.
Reed Sillers: The co-owner of the only triathlon store in the Seattle area. “Speedy Reedy” manages to do at least a couple of Ironmans a year despite the time needed to run a store. A great guy who has assembled and fixed much of my bicycle inventory for years. Last year, he DNFed CDA due to the high heat. Has a steady 12:30 this year.
The United States Naval Academy: Academy graduates at CDA, besides myself (Class of 1990), included Mike Monroe (‘88 – 10:56), James Webster (’89 – 12:07), Tom Robertson (’89 – 15:19), James Baca (’91 – DNF) and Matt Stewart (’98 – DNF). Mike is famous for trying to do CDA and LP back-to-back while raising money for spinal cord research. “Lunar” returned to his rightful place of finishing the swim in front of me. “Preacher” Tom and “Chewy” Baca are friends of mine from Whidbey attempting their first Ironmans. Tom, whom I have no idea how he found the time to train for this, wrote “My feeling the day after was "never again," but with a few days behind me I am at a "maybe again," if I actually train for the real distances.” James had a leg stress fracture and only did the swim. Uberbiker Matt somehow didn’t finish the bike. (Whereabouts currently unknown…probably still enjoying his vacation.)
The Cocanours: Husband Spence is an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Wife Amy is an officer in the Coast Guard. Geographically separated in the past due to opposing orders and deployments, they now live in the same chunk of the Northwest. Amy had a great day with an 11:18. Spence swerved off the bike course (at mile 80 to avoid a crash with a fallen cyclist) onto what he though was a dirt road. Turned out to be a ditch. Was seen partially mummified later covering flesh and bone injuries. Get better soon.
Steven Bailey: My nemesis last triathlon season. We did a bunch of the same races in the Northwest last year, and he beat me in all but one…but only because of a flat tire. When Steve passed me at mile 91 on the bike, it was far from unexpected. In his first IM race, he went a lightning-fast 9:51 and earned a Kona slot. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me either.
The Connecticut Gang: Rob Straznitskas and Marty Cashin frequent my coach’s on-line message board and have done a few of these IM races. Straz seemed to be doing O.K. when he passed me on the 12th mile of the run. He looked much different much later while walking when I passed him at mile 20. He walked in with an 11:36. I never saw Marty the whole day. After some respectable splits, his race ended at T2.
Bill Juzwiak: One of my former teammates with the Navy’s Northwest regional triathlon team was among the non-finishers after a tough bike ride.
Kraig Schmottlach and Jody Williford: My weekend began and ended with these two gentlemen from Michigan whom I sat with at the pre-race dinner and whom I bumped into after the post-race dinner. Both had great races. Kraig passed me at the half-way mark of the run and snuck under 10:20 to earn a Kona slot. I never saw Jody pass me on the way to his 10:26…though I think he heard this strange grunting coming from a portajohn at mile 14.
EPILOGUE (Worth reading. Honest.)
Monday and Tuesday, my little sore throat became a full-fledged “cold” or something like that. Although I was in misery, I did have some time to contemplate all that had occurred in both the past week and the entire season to date.
At the awards banquet, the mayor of Coeur d’Alene came forward and made an excellent speech. One of her themes was how much this event has changed her community for the better. She spoke of how each athlete inspired the people who lived there. She spoke of how the participants helped those who reside in a small piece of interior America to dream big dreams and to see that those dreams can indeed be fulfilled. She told the triathletes that they will never know how many lives they touched in a positive way.
The mayor’s words eloquently summarized the reason why I do triathlons. I don’t do triathlons to draw attention to myself. I don’t do them to raise awareness for a charitable cause. I don’t do them, necessarily, because they improve my health. I don’t do them for myself and, though the training can be lonely, I don’t do them alone.
I do triathlons because I believe I can help inspire people.
If you think about it, triathlon is a very difficult sport to perform. Those who undertake the challenge of a triathlon event are extraordinary people. One obvious way that we as triathletes inspire others is to demonstrate that we can perform a physical feat that most people barely believe to be possible. Certainly, the growth of our sport can be attributed in part to new athletes having been inspired to do a triathlon by performances they have witnessed. Yet, we inspire others in different ways and not necessarily to things linked to triathlon. I once received a message from a friend and world-class swimmer that I look up to. This swimmer was preparing for a high-level competition and was inspired to train diligently from the rigorous training I was doing to prepare for an Ironman. I was floored and humbled when I read that message. He was the achiever, but I was part of the inspiration.
I know that people can be inspired this way because I have been inspired by the example of many others. Some do triathlons and of those who do, some tend to do them slower than I. Yet, many of those who have inspired me to excel in triathlons have never done one. (My swimmer-friend would be an excellent example.) They have excelled at other sports or a variety of non-athletic endeavors. I would probably surprise a number of people, including some to whom I have a strong friendship, if I told him or her that I have been highly moved and motivated by something they have done or in the way that they carry themselves. If you are reading this message, you are probably one of those people.
I’m not sure that I really had a crystal clear reason for wanting to pursue qualification to the Ironman World Championships until after I finished Ironman Coeur d’Alene. At least, it wasn’t clear in my mind. It is one thing to pursue a lofty goal with a focused attention. Daring to dream big and taking bigger risks to try to accomplish a prized achievement is often an admired trait. Yet, I know that my life would still be a good one if I never made it to the Hawaii Ironman. The sun did rise on the morning after the race in Idaho. My parents still loved me. My friends still like me.
Ultimately, though, I desired to be a source of inspiration to others and my yearning was to do so at what is generally considered the grandest stage in our sport. I knew that I was good enough to qualify for Ironman Hawaii. I also knew that there are many people who are good enough to qualify for Ironman Hawaii but do not. Kona can only accommodate a fortunate few. Those who race in Kona, no matter how they earned their slot, and no matter how they do there, have been gifted with a great opportunity to inspire others. “Great moments are born from great opportunity”, and by going through the process and journey of earning a slot, Kona racers develop the tools to compete like a champion and have been blessed with a great opportunity. Getting a slot to Kona, to me, is not an “achievement” that separates some triathletes from others based on skill. Rather, a slot to Kona is the receipt of a blessing of opportunity. It only took me a long, long season to figure that out.
I had five opportunities to get into Kona for 2004: Ironman Florida, the Ironman lottery, Eagleman, Coeur d’Alene, and a fifth avenue. The final opportunity was the U.S. Navy’s official competitive team. There has always been an inter-service military competition at the Hawaii Ironman as part of its heritage. For the first time this year, the team that would represent the U.S. Navy in Kona would be selected by…the U.S. Navy. (What a concept!)
The teams consists of four members…three men and one woman. To win the team competition, all four members must finish and have the lowest aggregate time. Each of the five services, including the Coast Guard, has a team. The services had to name their teams by July 4, the Sunday after Coeur d’Alene. The results from Coeur d’Alene would be considered in the selections.
I came back to work on Wednesday to find an interesting e-mail from the Navy Sports director. Since this was the first time that his office was picking the team, he wanted to get a wide range of guidance on selecting the team. In that vein, he summarized the achievements of all of the applicants and asked a number of people, including some applicants like myself, to suggest a merit ranking. Since it was already mid-week, the director needed the inputs by the following day (Thursday) and he would need to make the selections by Friday. This task went straight to the top of my inbox.
Yes, I was honest when I e-mailed my reply to the director. I wasn’t #1, but I wasn’t #10 either. How about #3?
The next morning, I’m still buried deep under the inbox avalanche that accumulated during my absence when I get a surprise phone call from the sports director. We talked, for a while, mostly about others. However, I did feel after the call a good deal of encouragement. My sense was that I was still being strongly considered for the Navy team.
Until the previous day, I could easily tell anyone how improbable I thought my selection to the Navy team would be. The vision that I had for my life was to perform with excellence upon triathlon’s biggest stage. I knew the “what”…but I had no clue about the “how”. God tends to take care of the “how” part. The cool thing is that if “what” my vision of my life is intended to be is correct and divine, “how” that vision becomes manifested is both (1) clearly beyond my control, and (2) somehow orchestrated. If this would turn out to be the open door to Hawaii, it’s obvious that the fingerprints of God would be on it…not just this little thing, but the whole journey all the way back through the season, the move to Virginia, even back to the last trip to Hawaii which I am fortunate to be alive to tell you about. For a sport that’s mostly an independent affair in the midst of competition, there’s surely a dependent aspect surrounding just about everything else.
Not long after that phone call, I was busy with final arrangements for a friend and co-worker’s promotion ceremony that the office was hosting. My friend is one of our offices’ hardest and smartest workers, so his promotion was most welcome to see. In the past year, he and his family have seen quite a bit of me, whether as a dinner guest, hockey fan or guitar jammer. Despite the demands of my training and his family responsibilities, we probably see the most of each other than any other co-worker outside of the office.
The ceremony was going to be a big affair. His parents came down from Maine to watch. Of course, the wife, kids, sister and some in-laws were there as well. I got a call from the wife on Tuesday (as I’m riding the Spokane airport shuttle on my way to my return flight) asking about catering requirements. I suggested that with much of the office around, plus friends from other agencies coming as well as the family, the wife ought to be prepared to feed 100 people. That should be safe…besides, in my post-Ironman recovery, I’d be happy to eat any leftovers.
After the ceremony, my friend’s father (retired military himself) comes up to me and slips a coin into my hand. Before I look at it, he tells me about the tradition of giving a coin to those who are first to salute a newly promoted officer. Dad tells me how his son talks about me “a lot”, and that is why I’m given this coin. I humbly thank him and put the coin in my pocket.
I slept well that night. I did, though, think quite a bit about the upcoming selection. If I did get picked, this would be much different than racing in Kona “unattached”. I’d only have the hopes and faith of three teammates and about 400,000 co-workers whom I’d represent to handle. Pressure?
Of course, before I went to bed, I needed to change out of my uniform and empty out my pockets, including the coin that my friend’s father gave me. I knew enough about the tradition to know that the coin was a silver dollar. In my hand, it felt like a silver dollar the size of one of the Eisenhower (pre-Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea) dollars. I finally look at the coin and it’s none of those…it’s a newly minted dollar made of one ounce of PURE silver. That, without a doubt, was THE highest honor of the week. That trumped finishing an Ironman. That trumped a potential selection to the Navy’s Kona team. All of those things I very humbly appreciated, but the one I appreciated the most was the affirmation of a friendship. (For the record, I did give my friend a pair of Ironman-sized shot glasses.)
Friday morning, I wasn’t even sure if I would get the selection announcement message that day. The sports director needed to consult with another athletic director that morning. Then, he had to submit the names to the Kona office before leaving on a scheduled golf outing. Only if he had time between submitting the names and his tee time would he send out the word to the applicants.
I came back from lunch and found a couple of new e-mail messages that, for some reason, my computer filed into my “junk e-mail” folder. Normally, I don’t even spend time with junk messages, but since I rarely get them on my office account, I was curious to see what they were. The first one said “Congratulations! You just got picked to go to Hawaii!!!” I think that it was the first time in ages that I truly believed a “Spam” message.
After a week of extraordinary events, the journey begins again.
Thanks to all!