Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Recap – The Swim

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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T1: 7:33

And like that…I was on my way to ride 112 miles.

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34 Responses to Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Recap – The Swim

  1. Katherine says:

    So proud of you for overcoming that swim. Open water is a total free-for-all, and you handled it like the pro that you are!

  2. Morgan says:

    Eek so glad everything went ok for you on the swim! Great job out there girl!

  3. I remember watching your splits during the swim portion, and being SO amazed and in aw when you were done. I can’t wait to read the rest.

  4. Kim says:

    Awesome work Page! I’m so, so happy that WTC implemented the Swim Smart system – The swim portion of triathlons is my strongest leg, but I am frequently bogged down with beginners or weaker swimmers getting all up in my biz-nass and slowing my down! I can also see how for less experienced swimmers this would be a huge advantage as well. Great time out there and I love how much you were smiling! Looking forward to reading your bike and run recaps – the sun never sets on a badass!!!!!!!

  5. Monika says:

    oooh so exciting! I can’t wait to read the rest! I hate open water swimming and could almost feel the shock of cold water just reading about it. so glad the swim went so bad for you. smile for instagram. hahahaha :)

  6. Jenny says:

    Congratulations Page! It’s so inspiring to read your writing!

  7. Loved this post. I got so excited reading it, I felt like I was there with you! I like the sounds of the new swim implementations that they put in place. I have watched numerous IM at CDA and the swim starts were always a cluster and looked scary. I missed the start of the swim this year because my hubby is a dumb dumb so I didn’t get to see how the wave starts worked. Did a lot of people utilize the “rest” platforms?

  8. alyssa says:

    I want to happy cry for you & we’be barely begun!

  9. alyssa says:

    I want to happy cry for you & we’ve barely begun!

  10. Cate says:

    Aaaahhh so amazing!!! Awesome job powering through that swim!!

  11. Christy says:

    Wow Page! Great job! You absolutely crushed the swim! It sounds like CDA was the PERFECT course for you to be able to take your time with it and ease your fears, especially with the new swim rules! So excited to read parts 2 and 3!

  12. Sima says:

    That swim sounds terrifying! Congrats on doing better than you thought! Isn’t it great when a great performance shows up on race day?!? Can’t wait to read about the rest of your experience!

  13. Congrats on conquering your fear of the swim! I was a competitive swimmer all through high school, but open water swimming seems so scary. Can’t wait to hear about the bike and the run!

  14. Linda Curtis says:

    I love reading experiences of IM events, or any triathlon, when they’re so well written, :) Hopefully I’ll find your bike and run tale soon~ Again congrats and come down to SC for a recovery swim! (Water is warm) :)

  15. Kristen says:

    Be so proud of how far you have come since that first open water swim. I was very interested to hear how getting out of the water and getting back in for the second loop went – so glad it was easy! I love how happy you look in all your pictures. I can’t wait to read about the rest.

  16. J says:

    SO awesome! I got goosebumps and tears in my eyes as I read because ironman just seems like such an amazing journey and I am so happy for you!

  17. Congratulations again. It’s so wonderful to hear how happy you were the whole time. Awesome job overcoming that initial concern. It sounds like your pep talked worked. You did a fantastic job, and I’m so glad the weather was so perfect for the day of the race. I can’t wait to read the rest!

  18. Awesome!! You did such a great job!! I can’t wait to read about the rest of it!

  19. Beth says:

    Well done Page! Can’t wait to hear the rest!

  20. Aron says:

    I was tracking you obsessively through your swim just because I know how it’s been your biggest obstacle and was hoping I was pulling some nerves from you :) I was SO EXCITED when I saw you finished AND in such a great time. Amazingggg. Just remembering back to those first couple open water swims – goosebumps my friend.

  21. Helen says:

    Awesome, that time is amazing for 2.4 miles! I can’t even do a mile in 1 hour!

  22. The swim buoy mess is totally true!! Every Ironman!! So funny!! You just have to bob around the buoys!!

  23. Love all your photos, especially of your little nephew:)
    I am SO proud of your swim! I totally agree- swim wide and a bit longer to avoid the chaos.
    And how great were all the volunteers?!

  24. Meaghan says:

    I’m so so so proud of you, and I LOVE reading this report!!! xo!

  25. Wow! I got goosebumps reading that! Inspirational swim, well done!!! If that was your hard leg I cannot wait to read the rest! (long time reader, first time commenter from the land downunder! :) )

  26. Page! I am SO proud of you!! I want the rest of your recap!!! Now! lol! Kidding girl, take your time…I just want wait to hear how the rest of it went! If you did this well in the swim. I can’t imagine how it felt to kick ass in the running!!

  27. Alisa says:

    Even though I love swimming, triathlon swims are scary and I often have to tell myself to get my shit together! I’m sooo glad that you were able to overcome your anxiety and kick butt. It’s great that you’re so open and honest about it too, I think a lot of ppl think they are the only ones with anxiety , def not the case.

    Yay for making it through the swim with a smile and better than expected time!

  28. You are a huge inspiration!! One day, I’ll say it I will swim 2.4 miles. I need to become a better swimmer!! I’ll need some tips. I’ve done a triathlon, but 2.4 miles is on a another level! Great job!!

  29. Jessica B. says:

    I am the world’s worst swimmer. Even took swim lessons…2 years ago and i am still horrible. But everytime I read an Ironman recap, I want to do an ironman!

  30. Katie says:

    AWESOME JOB PAGE! Those turn buoys are the worst in ANY race, but especially for some reason at Ironman. Congrats on a great swim!

  31. Pingback: Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2013 – the bike and run | Change of Pace

  32. Peter says:

    I have your blog book marked and I read it over and over as I prepare for my first IM at Cda this year. I hope I take time to enjoy the race as much as you were able to! Congrats and job well done!

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