by: Sherman Criner
This would have been my last paragraph but given the length of my ramblings I decided to move it to the beginning, as this is the actual purpose of writing this report. I hear a lot of people say they could never do an Ironman. The time, money and sacrifices in doing an Ironman are not for everyone but let me be very clear and Ironman is not about athletic ability. The only trait I find consistent in anyone who does an Ironman is they are goal oriented and stubborn. You have to put in the boring long slow distances to build your stamina and the race itself is just your mind forcing your grumbling body to keep moving forward. Anyone CAN do one but it’s not something everyone may want to do.
I initially was not going to write a post race report as it seems somewhat narcissistic and I had posted a short post race report on my Facebook page. However, I had lunch with Meghan Lyons the other day and she picked my brain about her first upcoming 70.3 and it reminded me of all the people I spoke to prior to my first Ironman. It is human nature to fear the unknown and perhaps the more practical information (especially being 47 and of average talent) I can provide anyone who reads these reports, it might help move someone from a dream to a goal.
For the last 18 months I have had to deal with major life stress, which has not allowed my training to be at a level I know it, was and should be. But I also know if you sit around and wait for everything to be perfect, it never will be and you will never accomplish any of your goals in life. I arrived in Coeur d’Alene several days prior to the race. I had been plagued with a productive cough for the last couple of weeks and my right heel continued to painful. I did not feel sick but was just not 100%. The weather was crappy the first several days with constant rain. I had a tried and true schedule of race week workouts during my taper but I decided it was probably better to just rest and relax as I certainly would not gain any fitness nor lose any over the next 3-4 days. So I did absolutely nothing physically until the day before I went for a 30-minute bike ride and ran 4 miles.
I have basically retired from swim training, as no matter how much time I spend in the pool I cannot get faster. I do not float, my body is built the opposite from how a good swimmer is and I have a weakness in my left shoulder from an injury when I was 18 that does not allow me to pull correctly with my left arm. I am resigned to the fact that I am a 1:30:00 2.4-mile swimmer and I am fine with that. My philosophy “Train for 2, Race all 3”. When I stand at the start the only thing I think about is 1) relax, 2) swim, and 3) the goal is to exit the water. When I say swim what I mean is you are going to hit people, people hit you, kick people, be kicked, swallow water, have to pee, whatever and if you stop people will swim over top of you and you lose momentum, waste energy and potentially allow panic to creep in. No matter what happens to me in the water I just keep my head down and keep swimming, keep moving forward.
There has been a lot of discussion about Ironman changing their swim starts. There is something unique and exciting about a mass start of 2000+ swimmers. I cannot control the rules so its not something I worry about and if the rule change saves lives then I am all for it. We lined up at the beach. There were large placards grouping us by estimated times. Pros went first. Then the times were 1:00-1:15, 1:15-1:30, 1:30-1:45, 1:45-2:00, 2:00-2:20. I seeded myself with the 1:30-1:45. The water was not nearly as cold as I had anticipated with the temperature being 60 degrees. To me that is perfect for a wetsuit as over 2.4 miles I will not sweat. The swim was really uneventful in a beautiful setting. Exiting the swim the temperature was around 55 degrees and overcast.
Fairly standard transition out of the water. My only decision was I did not know how I would feel coming out of the water and whether to wear a jacket or arm warmers. I went with the arm warmers. I grabbed my bike and the rear bike tire was locked and would not roll. I did not panic as in these long races its important to make every decision by assessing the current situation and make the best decision you can without compounding the situation with a bad decision. I took my bike over to the bike tech tent. After letting some air out of the tire and making some mechanically adjustments the friendly tech was able to get the tire off the frame. This is the 2nd time this issue has cropped up during a race weekend. Subsequently back in Wilmington it turns out my bike frame and rear wheel does not really accommodate a 25-rear tire. I took a gel and began my process of a gel every 30-45 minutes and also began drinking fluids, as I need to be peeing on the bike to know I am properly hydrated for the run. With the cool weather I knew I would be sweating even if I did not feel it like in hot weather events. I also tried to grab bananas as I went through aid stations. I bike by power so for me on the bike I have my computer set for power & cadence and just try to stay on the numbers. People ask me what I think about during the bike and it’s hard to explain but I think about everything and nothing. The rhythm of your legs is like a metronome and you can disassociate. I do not drive or ride a bike course in advance as that way everything is new the first time I see it and enjoyable. I do listen at the athlete meeting for any details. I knew in this race there were several sections that were No Passing Zones. I kept my eye out in advance for those and when I knew there was one coming up I made sure I positioned such that I would not be behind riders that would be blocking me. The bike course was extremely hilly but the roads were smooth. Early in the bike around mile 15-20 my left aero arm pad fell off which caused a comfort issue and nice bruise resting on metal. Also, my chain jumped off during the middle of an ascent and it frustrating losing time & momentum. But again you have to accept setbacks, recuperate and just keep moving forward. Any wind was negligible. The bike was pretty uneventful until about mile 90-100 when I started getting dizzy and lightheaded. A couple times I sort of drifted over onto the rumble strips of the highway. I knew and know you are always going to have bad parts during these long races. At the aid stations I grabbed a couple Bonk Breakers as I felt hungry and those were probably the most substantial food type items on the course. The majority of the last 20 miles back to town was downhill so I was able to take advantage of that and I started slowly feeling better.
This is when an Ironman truly begins. Swim is just to get out of the water. Bike is just to get you tired for the run. Its daunting being so tired but this is the challenge for which you have been waiting. I love it! Can my mind make my body do this? The first 1-3 mile is typically the easiest because you are off the bike, ready for a change and the crowds are so encouraging. The run was 2 out and back 13.1s. The first halves were flat with the 2nd halves extremely hilly. I do not let my mind think about running 26.2 miles or the word marathon. All I do is set achievable incremental goals. I begin by saying I just have to run aid station to aid station, which are 1 mile apart. I was immediately surprised with how many people I saw vomiting, cramping or sitting off the road. My guess is on the cool day they failed to properly hydrate on the bike. The problem with the run leg is your stomach is eventually going to shut down on you and it’s a matter of when. I eventually had to resign myself to conserving energy by walking up the steepest hills and running the downhill’s & flats. I was not having a good day on the run and had some issues I will spare any graphic details. I had to decrease my goals. Run to that corner, run to that traffic cone, run 200 steps, etc… anything to just keep me moving forward. Around mile 20 my stomach had shut down but by then it was again overcast, light drizzle and cool so I just tried to sip water, as I was not too worried about cramping.
Coeur d’Alene is a cool beautiful part of the country if you have never been. The course itself is very challenging especially for us flat landers. I also know the weather can be unpredictable from cold to heat. Frankly the weather this year was perfect for an Ironman and I wish I had been able to take better advantage of it. It’s a great locale for a race if you have never been.
I was just about to type that it was not my best day but in retrospect any day I get to face difficult challenges, test my internal fortitude and succeed….is a GREAT DAY!