This was my first Ironman, and it lived up to expectations. Overall, I had a great experience, and I have a lot of people to thank for that. In review of the day, it is clear that my preparation and execution was dramatically enhanced by learning from so many others on EN. I avoided a tremendous number of rookie mistakes that could have made for a really miserable day. That is not to say that I didn’t make some errors, but nothing that hurt me too bad.
As per the plan, up at 2:30 for a bagel and peanut butter along with some Gatorade (~450 cal), then up again at 4am for a powerbar, banana, ½ bonk breaker, and Gatorade (~450 cal). Made it to transition by 5:30, and then ready to go down to the water right before the gun. One GU packet before the swim.
Swim went better than expected. My first goal when I signed up for the race was “don’t misse the swim cut off.” I improved that to 1:30, and in weeks leading up to the race thought 1:20 might be in the cards. I lined up right in the center (coincidentally right next to Kurt) as per Rich’s advice for this swim, and back a bit which allowed a lot of people to get in the water ahead of me. The first couple minutes were very crowded which gave me time to adjust to the water temp as I started to make my way out on the course. I made the mistake of getting to close to the first turn buoy and got really caught up in the washing machine of hundreds of people trying to cram into a very tight space.
I finally started finding pockets of “open” water after the second turn, but it never really opened up, and every time I found open water, I caught a pack of people and had to fight my way through again. In retrospect, I probably should have started further forward, but hearing from others, there was no open water or rhythm for the swim.
I got out of the water from lap one I heard the race announcer say “38min” I realized I was swimming much faster than I thought given the time I spent treading water when everyone got packed in together.
I made my way back into the water for lap 2 and really felt the water getting choppy. I simply calmed down, found a rhythm, counted strokes, and tried to not get phased by all the contact with other swimmers. I conscientiously swam very wide in the turns to avoid the crowds and took advantage of the swells to almost bodysurf back to the beach.
Swim Actual: 1:18 :41
Swim Goal: 1:20 (huge progress from where I was 5 months ago, as the example in my swim coach’s clinic video of what not to do)
T1: took a long time here. Toweled off to warm up (air temp still around 50), got my gear on, pee break, but I’m still not sure where all that time went. Left plenty of room for improvement, with a 12 min transition.
Once I got rolling I felt pretty good, but I had expected to find water bottles in transition, so I made a big rookie mistake and left T1 with no water on my bike. I had my 3hr Infinit, but immediately had to adjust my nutrition plan since I would need at least 30 min to get to an aid station and grab water to go with my drink. Luckily, in the cool air, this wasn’t a huge issue.
In my fear of the cold morning air and water, I had rubber-banded some heat packets to my handlebars, wore full finger gloves, and took Rich’s advice bringing along tube socks (toes cut off) as disposable arm warmers. Not only did the socks work perfectly, but by selecting bright blue soccer socks as arm warmers, I got some great comments on the ride.
At the first aid station I grabbed water, and took a couple big pulls from the Infinit bottle to get back on track with my calorie intake.
I tried to stay consistent in my power output, with a goal of 137 watts for normalized power. The first big climb, as expected, I watched a lot of people go by while I held power down and worked to spin my smallest gear for the full climb. I was able to catch a lot of people on the big downhill that followed, as I didn’t spin-out of my top gear until about 42 mph, and while everyone who killed themselves to get up the hill coasted back down, I made up ground.
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. During miles 65-80 I felt a lot of right-side pain at the hip, knee, and ankle, but that went away eventually. Slow climbs, fast descents, 4 pee breaks. Stayed right on nutrition plan, taking in 6 servings of Infinit (244 cal per serving)+ 1 GU + 5 saltstick caps.
Actual moving power average: 131
Bike Actual: 6:39:31
Bike Goal: 6:30
T2: I was a bit wobbly getting off the bike and again had a long transition 5:36. It sure didn’t feel that long, but again, I have room for improvement. I know I sat in the changing tent for a while and fumbled with my socks for way too long.
I had some lofty goals for the run, but at the temperature climbed I decided I needed to back off a bit to make it the full marathon. The first 6 miles were uneventful, running about 9:40 pace, walking in the aid stations and netting about 10min pace. I dropped the pace a bit for the next 6 miles, continued to walk a bit in the aid stations, with a net pace of 9:46. (probably more than the scheduled 30 steps.
For nutrition, I realized my plan wasn’t really solid on the run, but I was taking in water at each station, and perform at alternating stations. A salt tablet every hour. By mile 13 I was getting hungry. I definitely need to revisit this for future races. I decided to stick with fluids, as my stomach started to cramp a bit and I was nervous about trying to take in solid food.
From mile 6 to 18 I had “the line” in my head, and I was started to really feel fatigued as I got to mile 18, but I was able to force myself to run/Ironman shuffle up the climb in mile 19. I did a bit of extra walking in the aid station around mile 20 but forced myself to run over the hill into mile 21. I slowed quite a bit, including a pee break, lowering my pace in miles 13-20 to 11:19/mile.
Once I got through mile 21, I knew that I would finish the race (which after all is the #1 goal for your first IM), and I kept motivating myself with the knowledge that if I just kept running, I would achieve my goal of finishing under 13 hours. I worked to hang onto 10 min miles, with a pace in the last 6 miles of 10:08. In hindsight, I really wish I could have run a pace closer to what the calculators tell me I’m capable of, but I know that at the time, I was giving it what I had and could barely accelerate even going downhill.
Run Actual: 4:29
Run Goal: 4:15 (based on sandbagging the calculators, with no understanding of how hard it would be to maintain that pace on raceday).
Total time: 12:45
As I’ve told everyone I’ve talked to, this was an incredible experience, and everything I hoped for. Almost a week later, I’m still beaming with pride. I know I can improve in both my fitness and my execution and I’m already looking forward to my next IM.
Additional details for anyone interested:
Race Prep: Arrived in CDA on Thursday, got to the house we rented in Hayden (away from the IM activity), grabbed dinner, went grocery shopping, and got settled in.
Friday I went down to the water at swim start at 7am to get a look at the water at the same time as the race would start. Lots of people around and lots of energy which was fun. I’ve swum in mid-50 temp water in the past so I knew to expect the ice cream headache and cold face, but every time I get in water like that it is a bit of a shock. Swam a short 15-20 min, got acclimated to the water temp and got out. This was enough to boost my confidence that even though I am a freeze-baby, I would survive the swim.
We walked to breakfast and then walked back to the expo to get registered.
I then did some course recon. Based on the pre-race conference call I had identified a few areas I wanted to see in person. We drove out to mile 18 where I ran the one big hill on the course, ran down to the turn-around and came back. Then we drove my bike out to the long climb on the ride where I rode the 1.8 mile climb along with the false flat at the top. I also rode the second climb. Having done both, I knew that I could hold my watts under control and ride the hills without needing to burn matches unnecessarily.
Friday night it was great to meet so many of the people I feel like I know from their posts online. I wish I had gotten a chance to talk with more of you, but it was great to get to get know a few ENers a lot better.
Saturday, I did another short swim in the morning and then got my bike checked in. The plan was to have a big lunch, but the timing got off a bit so we had a relatively light lunch and made an early dinner. As planned, in bed by 8:30. Amazingly, I slept well (despite a couple bathroom breaks at night), before my official wake-up at 2:30 race morning.
By getting calories in early in the morning and then a couple hours before race start, I think I had the necessary energy store to get me well on my way without swimming on a full stomach.
Additional Race Day details:
Swim – I focused on staying calm and not letting myself get concerned about the crowd around me or the time lost while treading water, and slowly making the turn. Frankly, everytime my legs were grabbed or arm was hit I had to tell myself that the person making contact is just trying to do the same thing I am, and they aren’t actually trying to piss me off. I took advantage of the pockets of open water to focus on form and I made sure I didn’t get to concerned about trying to draft off anyone.
T1 – running around in bike shoes was foolish. I should have carried them to the bike and put them on as late in the process as possible. It was easily 300 yards from the entrance of the changing tent to the bike, and shuffling there in bike shoes is simply time wasted.
T2 – same bike shoe mistake. I should have simply left my shoe on the bike, but I decided at the lat moment to clip out and then “ran” to the gear bags in them.
Run – as I reached new levels of fatigue on the run, I just kept setting short term goals, such as “run to the top of the hill,” “run to the next mile marker,” “catch that tall guy”(I play that game a lot), “count down from 100” before I let myself walk. Each time I hit the goal (or lost count) I just had to set another goal to keep my legs turning over.
When I got into a really dark place, I repeated my mantra “you are stronger than you think you are.”
Even while keeping my heart rate and pace under control, this run was the hardest run I’ve ever done. Had I not focused so hard on holding back my pace at the beginning, there is no way I would have been able to run all the way through the last 10k – more advice worth its weight in gold from EN.