The finish line of any competitive event is sweet. That sweetness is usually magnified according to the amount of training and work you put into preparing for the event, the duration of the event itself, and how much you suffered getting there. The finish line of an Ironman is about as sweet as it gets. Reaching that finish line in first place at Ironman Coeur D'Alene in my first attempt at the Ironman distance 11 days ago was pretty freaking awesome.
The thing I love most about triathlon is that it brings people together and builds relationships in a way that isn't normal. You can only get to know someone so well in a coffee shop or grabbing drinks after work. It's a different kind of friendship that forms when you're biking 100 miles in the Texas hill country in mid-July or rubbing sunscreen on their sweaty back before a brick run. Ironman Coeur D'Alene gave me a finish line, it gave me an overall victory and a nice medal, hat, and finisher shirt. But the best thing Ironman Coeur D'Alene gave me was the friendship of seven other brave (or dumb) souls that wrapped their bodies in neoprene and dove into the water with me that morning. When I won the race it wasn't just me winning, it was all of us that traveled together, trained together, and shaved our legs together.
I will be eternally grateful to Ildar Mannapov for convincing me to sign up for an Ironman in the first place. None of this would have happened without him. He and Justin Nix came up with the crazy idea to do an Ironman without any previous experience in triathlon. They did it and they brought a bunch of us along with them. Ildar and Justin took an idea and invited us to share it with them. Thank you guys.
Justin McKenzie, Valerie Lozano, William Nix, Jennifer Upton, and Michael Chiang were all fellow racers and I'm so glad I met them and got to know them this year. The trip wouldn't have been the same without a big, crazy house full of bike parts and compression socks.
Not all of us finished at Ironman Coeur D'Alene but all of us racked our bikes as "first timers" and embarked on the same journey with a destination unknown. I got to complete my journey that day, as did four others of our crew. Three people have unfinished business with Ironman and I know that the fire kindles hotter in their belly than it did before they started. Following "The Pursuit of Excellence" doesn't mean there won't be failures or hiccups along the way. I've had my fair share over the years as I know we all have.
I've received plenty of questions about this race and thought I'd take a slightly different approach with this race report and answer them in the form of a Q&A. I hope you enjoy and please comment below if you have any more you'd like answered!
Did you think you could win before the race started?
The short answer is, yes, I thought I might have a chance at winning. The long answer is that I did my homework and saw that the top age grouper has historically gone around 9:30 at Ironman Coeur D'Alene. Last year the winner went 9:28. I THOUGHT that if I had a good day I could dip under the 9:30 mark and I knew that that could potentially be good enough to win the whole thing. I also knew that Ironman is a LONG day and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I was fully at peace with the possibility of me walk/jogging a 5 hour marathon if my body and/or stomach gave out. I wasn't counting my chickens before they hatched but I felt like I had a good grasp on my capabilities and hoped they would be good enough to triumph on the day, turns out I was right.
What were you thinking during the race?
I gave up about halfway through the bike. Ok, that sounds bad. I didn't really give up on the race but I did give up on winning. I was wayyyy behind the leader on the bike. Like 10-15 minutes back and I pretty much resigned myself to putting my best foot forward and racing the best race I could. I came off the bike and felt REALLY good as I left transition and started running. I was shocked at how good I felt which was mentally very nice and refreshing (maybe I should have biked harder). I knew from glancing over the times from last year that the guys who biked low 5:0x:xx typically ran 3:20-3:30 and the guys who biked 5:1x:xx ran closer to 3 hours. I realized that if I kept running the way I was then I might catch a lot of guys. The nice thing about running a marathon is that it's a lot of time for your splits to add up! Running 30 seconds/mile faster than someone doesn't help you much if you're two minutes down starting a 5k. But starting a MARATHON you can run 13 minutes into someone doing that!
When did you know you were going to win?
At the first turnaround at mile 5 I was 12 minutes behind the leader and 5 minutes behind 3rd-5th. Four miles later, as I finished lap one I got a split that I was only 7 minutes behind the leader and running 30+ seconds a mile faster than anyone in the field. I immediately realized I was running over a minute per mile faster than the guy who was in first and so I could probably catch him. When I took the lead at the halfway point (mile 13) I felt good enough to believe I could slow my pace down a little and still win by a solid margin. I also felt tired enough to realize I could totally fall apart or cramp in the next 90 minutes of running and lose everything. Ironman Coeur D'alene used a rolling start instead of a wave start so I was pretty sure that all the top guys would have started in the first few minutes. But after Buffalo Springs were I crossed the line in 6th and won the race I wasn't going to take any chances of that happening to me! With 5 miles to go second place was only 5 minutes behind me so I kept pushing through the finish. I wasn't totally certain of my victory until the top 5 finishers had crossed the line and the online chip times were still showing me as the fastest time.
What did it feel like to win?
It was cool. Really, really cool. I still can't explain exactly how I felt in the moment or even now. I think the best word to describe my emotions might be gratitude. I was, and am, just so grateful to have been able to put together some very well executed races this year. It's been pretty sweet that these races have also resulted in big overall victories! I've been racing for a long time and have had so many races I walked away from embarrassed and disappointed in myself. That hasn't happened this year and I realize it's a special thing to be able to win an Ironman. I'm so grateful to all my friends and family that were in Idaho sharing that day with me and to all the people back home watching and following online. It was a special day and I realize it's something that may never happen again.
Did you cry?
I didn't. I thought that maybe I would since I can sometimes be a little emotional but at the finish line I was just full of joy and trying to soak in the moment. I had one brief spot at mile 17 of the run where I started thinking about the finish, seeing my parents cheering for me, how I would grab the tape (you know, normal things you think during an Ironman ;-P ), where I started to choke up a little. I quickly reminded myself that there was 9 miles of running left and nothing was for certain yet!
What was your CTL and TSB going into the race?
I'm not going to say that my training was perfect for the race (it wasn't), but I will say that I was well rested! Three weeks before the race my TSS peaked at 98.6. I think every athlete is different and my personal opinion is that the CTL number drops a little too fast from rest. Mine certainly plummeted during the last 3 weeks of light training but I felt very, very good on race day so I'd say it worked.
What did your Ironman build up look like?
I'd say I did a fairly normal Ironman block. I spent a lot of the year building into some consistent training after an 18 month hiatus from serious training. You can read a lot about what I did earlier this spring in my Buffalo Springs 70.3 race report. Starting two weeks after Buffalo Springs 70.3. I did three weeks in a row where I bike 100+ on Saturday, then ran long on Sunday (16, 18, 20). I took one week of recovery, then did my biggest volume week while I was on vacation in Silver City, NM and Fort Davis, TX. I swam 9600 yards that week, biked 232 miles (with 17,000 feet of climbing), and ran 44 miles. That week ended 3 weeks before the race and after that I rested
What was your longest bike ride?
My longest bike ride was 116 miles which I did 5 weeks before the race.
What was your longest run?
I did a 16 miler, 18 miler, and two 20 milers in the 8 weeks before the Ironman. All of my long runs were done at around 7:20-7:45 pace. I never ran faster than 7:10 on the long runs (Mainly because my legs were so destroyed I couldn't go any faster).
What did you eat during the race?
A lot. Nutrition is THE biggest wild card for any athlete in an Ironman. I had sort of tested my nutrition in training but had never done a true race rehearsal nutrition workout. I knew that I wanted to rely on some solid food on the bike, then switch to liquid/gels in the latter half and for the run. In an Ironman you are riding at a low enough intensity that you can kind of eat whatever you want. My aim was to get about 2000 calories in on the bike (roughly 400/hour). That's a little high but would make up for the calories I didn't consume while swim and couldn't swim while running.
Day Before: It was a semi-big breakfast before heading to the race start to check in. Lunch was a little later than I would have liked because it took longer to check all of our gear. I had a hamburger and some beets for lunch. Dinner was a pasta party with all 25 athletes and spectators who were there for the race.
Race morning: I had a bagel with some peanut butter and half of a chocolate muffin. I tried to make sure I was a little full on race morning. Also, coffee of course!
Pre-swim: Half of a gel with some caffeine.
Bike: 1950 kcal
-1 turkey and butter sandwich on white bread (200 kcal)
-2 clif bars (500 kcal)
-2 Honey Stingers (300 kcal)
-3 Sleeves of shot bloks (600 kcal)
-3 full scoops of scratch (240 kcal)
-1 can of red bull (110 kcal)
-Lots of water
I didn't take anything except water from the on-course aid stations.
Run: ~660 Kcal
-2 Sleeves of shot bloks (400 kcal)
-1-2 cups of gatorade (~60 kcal)
-A lot more cups of coke and red bull (~200 kcal)
-Lots of water
Overall I felt pretty good on the run. I did get a little bit nauseous around mile 16-18 and took a break from eating/drinking which resulted in my pace slipping up close to 8 minutes per mile. With 5 miles to go I started shuffling through the aid stations slower and just drinking coke and red bull while pouring water on myself. That helped big time and helped me drop back into low 7:40 pace. The one thing I'd change for next time is switching to coke and red bull around mile 16-18 instead of 20-21.
TOTAL: 2650 kcal
Averaged out over a 9.5 hour race this comes out to 279 calories/hour which is pretty much spot on the maximum amount a 150 lb male like myself can absorb. More than that and I would have been super bloated and had GI distress, less than that and I might have bonked or hit the wall. One thing many people forget is that THEY AREN'T EATING DURING THE SWIM! If you are trying to average a certain amount of carbs or calories per hour, you can't just neglect the fact that you went 90+ minutes without eating a thing. During the first hour on the bike I ate/drank about 600 calories since I knew I was playing catch-up. That is also something I practiced on my long rides. I typically starting eating about 45 minutes into a long ride on any given Saturday. I've found that it helps my energy during the back half of the bike and it also prepares me for doing that in a race.
What was your average power on the bike?
Watts on watts on watts. Actually, my power wasn't all that high and my IF was probably a little lower than it should have been. Oh well, I ran pretty good after that bike ride and that's what counts! Looking over the results I think my bike split was 6th fastest overall. You can click the links below to see my full Trainingpeaks and Strava file from the race.
Did you take your slot to Kona?
I'm glad you asked! I actually filmed a little video to answer that question so take a looksee here:
Are you going to do another Ironman?
If you had asked me before the race then my answer would have been a firm, NO. However, people change and my first experience was such a good one it leaves a sweet flavor in my mouth that I sure would like to taste again. I know that no two Ironman races are the same and that the next one could be utterly painful and miserable the whole day. There's only way to find out though. I'll be doing Ironman Boulder in 2018 with the goal of qualifying for and racing Kona.
If you have any more questions about my day, my training, or what's next, please feel free to comment below, message me on social media or shoot me an email. Maybe I can give you some tips that help you in your pursuit of excellence.