Ironman Coeur d’Alene will forever go down as one of the best days of my life. It was a goal that I’ve had tucked away since high school and now I find myself looking back on the day that was. It’s a strange feeling to reflect on something that had been a far off, shiny goal for so long. But I’ll do my best to recapture the day that was, starting with the swim.
Prior to race day, Coach Paul had a series of mini swim, bike, run shake-out workouts on Friday and Saturday. I had heard the terrors of last year’s IMCDA swim and its frigid temperatures of 52 degrees. I had also heard the tales of how people got hypothermia, the second loop was incredibly choppy and that people lost major time sitting in the warming hut during transition. To say that I was nervous about the swim would be an understatement.
I met my fellow teammates on Friday for our first shake-out workout. I had never worn a neoprene cap, so I watched my teammates to learn the proper placement (neoprene under, regular over). We entered the water and my heart rate and mind lost it. Compared to my cozy little Shadow Cliffs, this water was ridiculously cold (I know, I was spoiled with my open water swimming back home). It took me 15 minutes of breaststroke and anxiety drills until I could even start swimming. I got through the quick workout but was mentally defeated. The rest of the day I doubted how I was going to finish the race if I couldn’t even manage the solo shake-out swim.
We met again Saturday morning and repeated the same routine, but this time, it was a different story. It was as if the whole situation (the temperature, the scenery, the color of the water) were no longer new and my mind could be at ease. I did my drills for a few moments and then was able to swim with the boys. As I got out of the water, I felt 100 percent different than I did on Friday – proof that time in the water prior to the race is absolutely essential to my performance.
In addition to the pre-race workouts, there was plenty of Ironman shopping (without buying too much as the fear of a DNF was still there), prepping, eating, seeing my family, chatting with Chicken Face, and getting that beloved Ironman backpack that is part of your registration.
Fast forward to race morning…
I was in bed by 8:30 and set my alarm for 3:30. While I actually didn’t have any trouble sleeping, I was up at 3 a.m., more nervous than I had ever been for anything…in my entire life. Today was the day that I was going to attempt to become an Ironman.
As Chicken Face slept a bit more, I tiptoed around to gather everything that I had laid out before. I wore my favorite SOAS race kit, I braided my hair (this would be the first time I’ve ever raced in “power braids”), I put in my headphones and made my way downstairs to use the breakfast area of the hotel. I sat silently, just listening to my music, eating my PB&J, Gatorade, and a bit of oatmeal and blueberries. I could see my hand shaking as I ate.
By the time I got back to the room, Chicken Face was up and ready to go. We let the rest of my family sleep and headed to the race start. The prior days in CDA were ridden with rain and skeptical weather. However, Sunday looked like it was going to be perfect race weather – I consider myself extremely lucky on this one. We found easy street parking, walked straight to the special needs bag drops, and then right over to the body marking. It was all really well organized and far too easy.
Some final touches on my bike and a few stops at the port-a-potty, and it was time to get suited up. I kind of just stood there, looking at the water with the light fog resting above it. The nerves were having one hell of a day.
IMCDA was the first race to ever implement the new Swim Smart initiative and to sum it up: it was fantastic. In fact, initial analysis is showing an average of 3-4 percent faster swim splits because of it. I give major kudos to the Ironman team for developing this initiative because as far as I was concerned, it went seamlessly and was critical to my swim’s success. As part of the new initiative, they opened up a warm-up swim area off to the right side of the lake. After you warmed up, you were to place yourself in a wave based on your estimated swim finish time, and instead of a running mass start of 3,000 people into the water all at once, you were to walk through a funnel of sorts. Your time would start the moment your timing chip passed the timing mat under the arch. In addition to the warm-up and the waved start, there were also “rest platforms” in the water that you could take advantage of if needed. Also, each buoy was numbered. The Ironman team mentioned that this was more for their purposes, but it was actually quite useful during the swim as you could count down how far you were from the turns or the finish.
After I kissed Chicken Face goodbye, I made my way to the warm-up area and entered water. It was honestly colder outside of the water than in it, so I just swam and tried to get my chattering teeth to be quiet. As I lined up in my wave, I just couldn’t believe it was happening. I tried to stay calm and walked through the arch, over the timing mat, and just like that…into the water.
I immediately positioned myself to the outer right side of the water to try and avoid the infamous kicking and punching of Ironman swim starts. But of course, my heart rate shot up. No. No. NO! I had to stop, catch my breath, and do God knows what, all while trying to continue to move in a forward direction. All that I can remember is that I literally told myself, “Page, get your shit together.” With that kick in the pants, I put my face in the water and swam. Thankfully, that was the last of my anxiety, the water temperature became perfect, I could see the sun peaking out from behind the clouds, and I knew I was going to do this!
Yet swimmers beware! The two turn buoys for each of the two loops were absolutely chaotic. It’s as if everyone forgets how to swim and splashes, kicks, and pushes like rabid dogs as they turn. Somehow, I got mixed up in the middle of the turn buoy mess and practically came to a stop as people were kicking and literally pushing me out of their way. I learned there to stay far, far away from the middle of the swim pack, especially during the turns. I’d rather swim a bit longer of distance than get caught up in that mess again.
I swam with my heart rate monitor on and it was being a total pain in my ass. I could feel it slipping down to my waist, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. So I tried to ignore it and just kept swimming.
The CDA swim course is actually two loops, including getting out of the water and a short jog on the beach between each loops. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that mini-break. I got out, took a deep, happy breath in, and made my way back into the water for the second loop. Because I wasn’t freaking out, the second loop actually felt much faster, but the funny thing is that it wasn’t. Mind over matter, I suppose.
I remember sighting, seeing the finish, and just smiling in the water. I could see the volunteers’ feet in the water, but wait, I wasn’t done yet! I’m supposed to hit the sand with my hands three times before I stand up! So I kept swimming and got up when it was time. 2.4 miles DONE!
FINAL SWIM RESULTS: 1:18:04
35th AG / 205th F / 1081 OA
The volunteers (who are all AMAZING!) were saying congrats, giving high fives and directing us up to the grass patch where we met another circle of volunteers. I saw two girls waving me over, telling me to sit on the ground, and then just ripped my wetsuit off. I couldn’t help but to laugh through the entire wetsuit ripping experience. They handed me my wetsuit, I ran to the T1 bag section, called out my number, where another volunteer handed my bag and directed me into the changing tent. I found a seat by some light (as the entire tent is quite dark) and once again, I was met by another friendly volunteer face who dumped out my bag and said, “What do you need?” I didn’t need to change because I going to wear the same kit throughout the entire race, but if only all of life was this easy with such great help.
As I got dressed, I kept looking for my salt/electrolyte pills. They were nowhere to be found. Shit. There was nothing I could do about it, so the volunteer helped me pin on my bib that had ripped off of my belt and continue getting the rest of my gear on. I grabbed a bag of pretzels as I ran out of the tent to try and make up for my lost pills, and made my way to my bike (which was positioned perfectly near the exit of the bikes).
On my way to my bike, I ran into my friend Darren who was walking his bike out, we chatted, and I remember talking to him and being so damn happy. As I got to my bike, I saw Chicken Face and my sister outside of the gate and all I could do was smile. My sister screamed, “SMILE FOR INSTAGRAM!” I laughed and it was at that moment that it hit me: Oh my God. I made it through the thing that I was afraid of the most, did better than I had anticipated, and I AM DOING AN IRONMAN! I was just so incredibly happy.
And like that…I was on my way to ride 112 miles.