Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2021 Race Report

There are race towns that kinda/sorta care about the fact that they have an Ironman in their town, and then there's Coeur d'Alene. With the record-setting heat on race day leading to a 27% DNF rate, I can't even imagine how much higher the DNF rate would have been if we weren't in CDA amongst people who supported, cheered, lifted, inspired, hosed us down, and pulled us all the way through the race. This was my 9th Ironman (in 9 different locations) and I've never experienced anything like it. 

Ryan's best race costume yet?! 

My mantra going into this race was: acceptance, ease, trust. I knew that there were going to be variables outside of my control (mostly the heat) and I know from lots of experience resisting the uncontrollables in the past, that I wouldn't have time or energy to waste being upset about anything. 

My mantra gave me a strategy:

1. Acceptance: Anytime something not ideal came up, I was going to practice acceptance rather than resistance. The key point here is acknowledging exactly what the situation is instead of adding my own subjective interpretation on top of it. In the middle of an Ironman, my subjective interpretation can't always be trusted. 

For example, I knew the high was going to be over 100 degrees. Objectively I knew how I would need to adjust my hydration plan. I made a plan to keep my core temperature as low as I could. And I knew what signs I was going to look for in my body to make continuous adjustments throughout the race. In the race, when I started to feel those signs, I kept my composure, made the necessary adjustments, and didn't worry about anything else. 

2. Ease: It's easy to focus on all the things that hurt in an Ironman. There are usually a plethora to choose from and a few of them need attention so that adjustments can be made. With this piece of my mantra, I was going to remember to focus on where I could find ease in my body. I didn't anticipate how this would play out ahead of time, but in the race it always started with taking fuller deeper breaths, then lowering my shoulders. I needed to keep tension in my core and my legs were doing their thing, but there were always other body parts that I could focus on to either find or allow ease.

3. Trust: This was about trusting myself, my body, my training, my plan, my ability to make adjustments to my plan, and my willingness to suffer. Trust is buoyancy. It has taken me years of dedication to unearthing my demons to cultivate this level of trust in myself, and the most frustrating and beautiful thing that I've learned is that it was always there waiting for me. 


The most significant thing that I'll have to figure out as I'm preparing for my next race is that I didn't feel well starting Friday and all the way through race day. I felt a little nauseous on Friday, but I took a long nap and that feeling didn't last much longer. Mostly I just had very little energy. Usually before an Ironman, I'm bouncing off the walls in the few days leading up to the race. I don't think I was sick but something was off. 

I felt the same low energy on race morning, but I wasn't worried about it. I practiced acceptance and got ready to do my thing.


I felt pretty terrible the whole swim. I couldn't find any energy or strength to get myself up to my normal speed. I was painfully aware of how slow I was swimming so I didn't look at my watch. I just got out of the water, promptly tripped over the sand and face-planted in the perfect location to get a good laugh with my husband, then moved onto the bike.


I have felt stronger on the bike during this training cycle than I ever have. I have both trained and believed myself into being a cyclist and I was really looking forward to executing that on race day. But as Ironman goes, sometimes you just don't have it. I kept looking at my power and being unable to decide if my power meter was off or my legs were off. It was about 20+ watts lower than it should have been. I'm grateful that I race by feel because if I had tried to push the extra 20 watts to stick to my race plan, I wouldn't have survived the run. 


I focused on executing my nutrition and hydration plan as close to perfectly as possible to give myself the best chance to turn this around. 

The highway was hot, especially on the 2nd lap of the bike course. Someone said they got a reading off the asphalt at 150 degrees. I don't know if that's really what it was but it sounds about right for how it felt. I could feel my core temperature rising and I tuned in to the beginning of a headache and other heat-related issues that would have started to develop rapidly if I didn't take back control, ease up on my power, and make adjustments to my cooling and hydration plan on the fly. 


I finally started to feel like myself around mile 95. 


The 3 loop run course was a perfect way to break down my strategy: I'd stay conservative the whole 1st loop, maintain or pick it up slightly on loop 2 if the heat wasn't destroying my soul, then go all in on loop 3. As I made the turn at mile 9 to start my 2nd loop, I felt like I could maintain my pace all day. I knew I had a ton of ground to make up on the women in front of me, but I also knew that it would be a war of attrition. If I could just not slow down, I would move myself up the leaderboard. 

The NYX athletes and sherpas all over the run course made it even easier to stay positive. I only got to see my athlete Erin (who was doing her 1st ever IM!!) once on the run course but she looked so strong and had a big smile on. Seeing her owning it gave me energy. 

My potato husband was a welcomed momentary relief. For just a moment, I was laughing too hard to think about anything that could have been interpreted as painful - which is his whole goal.

I didn't know exactly where my competition was but I knew I was right on the verge of a Kona spot. I poured my soul into the last lap of that run course. The result was nowhere near my fastest marathon but it was everything I had on that day. Kona spot or not, that's really what my Ironman goals are about: to surrender to the darkness and find a way to dig deeper than I even knew was possible.


As it turned out, my age group was allotted 7 spots and I made the final pass into 7th place right at the 25.5 mile run split. 

I qualified for Kona at Ironman Boulder in 2016. It has been 5 years of trying and failing to qualify over and over again. Each failure made me more resilient. Each one taught me something about myself and motivated me to keep going, keep digging, keep asking myself why and how I'm holding myself back - 

How my protective mechanisms were well-intentioned but ultimately destructive - 

How the walls that I've built to keep out the heartbreak have also kept out joy and celebration - 

How the way I talk about myself defines my reality and needs to be reckoned with on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis to make sure I'm not creating a limit where I don't need one. 

This shit is not easy. In fact I'd say that digging up these demons is significantly harder than training for an Ironman. I don't think I would have stuck with it if I didn't know what it was like to race on the big island on the 2nd Saturday in October. And now I have the opportunity to do it again.

About a week before the race, I realized that I hadn't allowed myself to dream about Kona because I was afraid of how much more it would hurt if I didn't qualify. But I was also unknowingly creating the reality where it was ok not to go for it. I was keeping myself safe. The day before the race I wrote myself this note:

Dear Laura,

You are ready. 

You have stayed true to your body - what works best for you, not being influenced by what other people are doing.

You have stayed true to your heart - saving time for rest and regeneration - building self love and compassion. 

You have built yourself up instead of torn yourself down. 

It was harder to choose this path but you were relentless

Tomorrow, you'll walk up to the start line more whole, more integrated, more ready to surrender than you ever have been. The outcome is not yours to decide. It never has been. Yours is the experience - the openness and willingness to embrace whatever the day brings you. 

You deserve every second of joy and pain that you'll feel tomorrow. 

Soak it in. 

Become it.

Then let it go. 

I am so proud of you. You have become the person we always needed to guide us through the darkness. 

You'll know what to do tomorrow. You always do. 

Trust your knowing. It will be the part of you that won't be tired or broken down. It will be the soft gentle voice that transcends time 

and space 

and everything.

You got this.

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