Ironman Coeur d’Alene – June 21, 2009
I arrived in Coeur d’Alene (CDA) on Wednesday. It was raining. I wasn’t too excited to see those weather conditions, but there wasn’t anything I could do to change that! I arrived in the evening. I decided that I would go take a look at the lake where I would be swimming. The scenery was beautiful! The lake is nestled between some mountains, making for a beautiful setting for the swim portion of the race.
Thursday morning, I got up and headed to the lake for a practice swim. The water was pretty choppy b/c it was quite windy. Fortunately, in my open water swims at home, the last one I did was in rough water so this was no shock to my system. I kind of freak out the first time I’m in a new body of water so I was glad that I could be there early enough to get a swim in. It didn’t take too long for me to get comfortable in the water. Thursday I just did a short swim so that I could get used to it. On Thursday afternoon, I drove back to Spokane to pick up my friend, Billy, from the airport. He was initially going to do the race but opted out about 8 weeks before the race. He decided he would come anyway to support me.
Once back in CDA, we headed down to take care of getting me registered. I got all my race gear (swim cap, athlete wristband, timing chip, and race info) and also picked up my bike, which I had transported up there. Next stop was the race day wheels tent, where I would swap out my regular wheels for a set of race wheels. These wheels are lighter weight and help in overall performance. While we were waiting for the wheels to get put on, we went back to the hotel to get running clothes on. After arriving back down at the expo area, I picked up my bike, put it in the car, and we headed out for a light 5 mile run. It was cool out, but not too bad.
On Friday morning, I went back to the lake and did a 30 minute swim in the water. The currents were tough to swim against because it was very windy. The course is set up as a large rectangle – 900 meters out, 130 meters across, and 900 meters back to shore. That is done twice in the race. I didn’t swim all the way out before cutting across the course and back. Coming back with the current was sure a nice change to fighting the current! The water was about 63 or 64 degrees on Friday. That is a pretty nice water temperature when you have a wetsuit on! I felt really good in the water and much more confident than the first time I got in!
After the swim and getting cleaned up, Billy and I decided to drive the bike course. Wow. I had no idea how hilly it was! This was probably a good thing because I may have opted for a different race. The first part of the bike course, which is also a 2-loop course, was along the shores of the lake with one pretty good climb both on the way out and on the way back in. The course winds through several residential streets before meeting up with the lake. This portion is an out and back, coming back into town and then heading north back out of town again. The course ‘flattens’ out for several miles before the hills really kick in! There are a lot of false flats on the course! As we were driving along, we got to the town of Hayden, which surrounds Hayden Lake. This is an absolutely beautiful part of the bike course. Some pictures I will post later will give you an idea of the scenery! While the beauty was amazing, the hills were something I could tell I would not be looking forward to! I had done a lot of hills in my training, so I knew I could handle it, I just wasn’t aware that there was so much of it out on the course! The hilly portion lasts about 30-35 miles (of a 56 mile loop)! The course then flattens back out and heads back to town. After driving the course, I figured that even if I was slow, at least it was beautiful and I could enjoy that aspect of the race!
Friday night was the welcome banquet – a pasta dinner and a short program, followed by an athlete meeting. They just covered the course and final dos and don’ts for race day.
On Saturday, I took my bike out for a 30 minute spin to make sure everything was in working order. I had run into another girl I knew and she happened to be staying in the same hotel, so we rode together, which was great! After we got off our bikes, we jumped into our running shoes and did a 15 minute run. My legs felt great! This was re-assuring because for about the last 5 weeks, I had been having a lot of knee pain. I didn’t feel any of that, which was great! I also spent some time Saturday morning putting all my gear together. In a full-Ironman race, you have different gear bags – one for the swim to bike transition, which has all your bike gear in, one for bike to run, which has your running gear in, and then you have two optional bags that you can put food or clothing in for ½ way through the bike and run courses. Volunteers will hand you those bags as you pass by that station on the course. My bike and gear bags had to be down to the transition area on Saturday afternoon. Once I was all set with getting my things together, Billy and I went down and dropped everything off. It is amazing to see over 2000 bikes all in the same place! Millions of dollars of bikes were there! There are security guards that keep watch over night so that nothing disappears.
My down time for the rest of the day was spent resting at the hotel.
My friend, Mark, arrived early Saturday evening and when he got there the three of us headed to the Olive Garden for one last pasta meal! Our wait was short and we had a nice meal together. We all headed back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Of course, I did not sleep at all that night, in anticipation of racing the next morning. This is common for me. My nerves always get the best of me. I didn’t really have any nerves until Saturday night, which was great!
Now, for RACE DAY!!!
My alarm stirred me at 4:15 AM. I hadn’t slept, so it was more a matter of waiting to get up until the alarm actually sounded. I immediately got up and gathered my racing clothes and got changed and ready to go. The forecast was grim – 62 and windy with PM showers. I got myself bundled up and ready before I woke up the others (who I’m certain were already awake, just not stirring!). With a few additional supplies, my wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, I was ready to head down to the race site. Phew, my nerves were kicking into high gear! It was very cold and windy outside. Every flag that was flying was perfectly perpendicular to the flag pole! Mark drove me down to the site, with Billy coming a bit later. I went and added my water bottles to my bike and made sure my tires still had air in them. Everything was in good condition so I found a patch of grass to do some light stretching before putting on my wetsuit. I could see the water and it was fairly choppy. The good news, however, was that the water was 65 degrees – which was much warmer than the air temperature at 6 AM! The professional athletes started the swim at 6:25, with the rest of the athletes (myself) at 7 AM. A mass swim start is a pretty impressive thing to watch! I have watched many of them and am always in awe. Because I have seen so many, this is what made me most nervous about my day. 2166 athletes started the race. That is a LOT of people all swimming at the same time in the same place. I opted to stay on the beach for a few seconds to let the masses get started and then I headed into the water. I was surprised to not be anxious in the water. Even with all the people around me, I was able to keep myself together mentally. The first 500 meters or so was tough with all the people surrounding me. Every time I saw a pair of feet heading toward my face, I slowed down my stroke a notch to avoid a broken nose or black eye! Getting to the first turn wasn’t too bad but then we had all those people trying to get around the buoy in a very small space, so it took some maneuvering to get around without getting pummeled. The same thing occurred trying to get around the second turn buoy. Heading back to shore on the first lap was a nice change because now the current was carrying me back toward the shore. The only thing I had to do was swim and try to avoid getting hit by another athlete. Once back to the shore, I had to get out of the water, run across the timing mat, and then get back in the water and do the lap a second time. The second lap was a little harder because there were less people to dissipate the forces of the current and now I was left to face it on my own. Somehow I managed! My second lap was a little slower than the first, but I made it out of the water in 1:28. This was about 13 minutes off of what I thought I would be able to swim it in. However, I gave myself 90 minutes, so I was under my overall goal time! Getting out of the water was the thing I was most concerned about with the race. I knew that if I could survive the swim, I would be fine for the rest of the day! Mission accomplished! (and it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated it would be!)
On to the bike…..I raced through transition to get my cycling gear on. Really, all I had to do was to put my socks and shoes on, as well as my helmet and sun glasses. I ran out of the change tent and towards my bike. I initially ran past my bike and had to do a quick turnaround! I was grateful for a volunteer who helped me out with that one! As soon as I got the line where I could mount my bike, I did. And I was off. The adrenaline was pumping for sure! I tried to get some nutrition in my system right away so I would have strength to pedal fast! My first 56 mile loop was awesome! I averaged about 18.25 mph. This was really good for me, considering the climbing that I had to do. Climbing isn’t exactly my strong point! My second lap was a bit slower (is there a pattern here?!). The wind had picked up another notch and I also wasn’t on top of my nutrition as well as I should have been. At one point, I decided eating something was probably a good idea. As soon as I got some food in me, I was full of energy and started passing people like crazy! That is a great feeling! The last 20 miles of the bike portion of the race were strong. Not too bad considering there was a total of 112 miles to bike! Despite the hills, this was one of the most scenic rides I have done. I really enjoyed taking in the sights even when I was pushing my physical limits. One of my goals, which came from my coach, was to make every mile count. I felt like I did that. I even found it in me to smile as I was cruising along! I had a great time on the bike course!
And then the run….this was a two loop course as well. I felt really strong coming off the bike and on to the run. I paid close attention to my heart rate, as I knew that if I pushed too much in the beginning, I would lose it before I made it to the end. It started getting cooler as I progressed through the first half of the marathon. The hill that leads up to the turn- around point was a killer! I was just glad I didn’t have to run all the way to the top of that blasted hill! J Coming back down gave me some great momentum and I was right at 2 hours at the 13 mile mark. Unfortunately, at the 12 mile mark, the rain started coming down. I was getting cold really fast. I was just racing in my race tank top. There is an area called ‘special needs’, where volunteers handed us our bags which we had packed with various things we thought we might like to have along the course. I knew there was a possibility for rain so I put in a long sleeve shirt along with some food. When I got to the special needs station (about mile 14.5) I had them give me my bag. I got my shirt out, left the food, and carried on my way. That shirt kept me warm for a bit…until it got so wet that it was cold! I had some really strong miles throughout the second half of the run. Every once in a while, I would feel this surge of energy and I would kick it up a notch. And then…the final 4.25 miles came and I lost it. I still don’t know if it was just that I was cold, that I knew I would beat my goal time, or that I just was exhausted that the last 4 miles took me so long. I went from a 9+ minute mile to a 13 +minute mile. No bueno. I was running along and then, seemingly for no reason, I would stop and walk. I got tired of walking through puddles, so I would start running again. It was all I could do to keep running, which I didn’t do a very good job of. HOWEVER, I heard the finish line music and knew I was almost there. The race finishes on a downhill!!!! Once I hit the top of that hill, I cruised into the finish line. “Judy Stowers from Mesa, AZ – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” The clock read 12:20:53. I had done it! My first Ironman! That was an amazing moment! I thought it would take me 13 hours, so I was SO HAPPY with this time!
The finish line was a bit of a blur. I was freezing cold and just about all I could think about was getting warm. The volunteers put a Mylar blanket around me, a medal around my neck, handed me a t-shirt and hat, and then I was off to get my picture taken. My friends Billy and Mark were there at the finish line to greet me. My sister and her family were waiting just down the way! It was SO great to have my support team there! I can’t imagine finishing a race like this with no one there to see you at the end! I was super grateful for their support and being willing to stick out the weather to see me come across the line. At that point, it was still all about the rain – no sunshine in sight!
Well, after I finished, I had a piece of pizza – that never tasted so good! I met my family and friends outside the athlete area. We went and got my bike and gear bags and then headed back to the hotel to get warm and changed. Phew! What a day!!!!
So….some final tidbits from the day….
Out on the bike course, I loved seeing the little kids out helping! They were so great! All the volunteers were great, but these kids just brought a smile to my face every time I saw them! Someone had dressed up as Elmo and was out playing the drums in their front yard – very fun!
On the run course – chocolate chip cookies and coke! When they weren’t soggy from the rain, just a bite gave me the boost I needed before I got to the next aid station!
The best? If I had to choose one thing, it would be making it out of the water alive and with nothing broken or bruised! OR – having people there to support me! OR burning over 7200 calories over the course of the 140.6 miles! J
The worst? The rain – that made for a very long second half of the marathon.
Would I do it again? I don’t know yet. I think with different weather, I could break 12 hours, but weather is nothing you can control so there would never be any guarantees. For now, one is enough. I am open to the possibility of another.
Overall, I just had a great time racing. It was very fun. I have said it over and over again that racing was way more fun than training! However, the long hours of training certainly paid off in the end! It was an awesome experience for me and I’m really grateful that I was able to accomplish this goal! I do have to say, that I could never have done it without my coach, Nick Goodman with Durapulse. He was SO great! He always encouraged me through my training when I was having a hard week and was always ready to compliment when I had a strong week. Thanks, coach!
I’m not exactly sure what is next on the horizon. I don’t know what I will do with all my spare time and I will be happy to be able to spend/save money in ways other than on training supplies!
(I’m sure there are things I forgot to add, but you should get the idea!)
My official finish picture!!!