Reflections of a First Time Ironman
What ran through my mind in the months, weeks, days, and seconds leading up to Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2009?
I guess the obvious. Could I actually physically and mentally do this? Over the last 4 years, I had completed 5 different Half Ironmans, 6 different Half Marathons, 1 Full Marathon last October, and multiple shorter distance triathlons. Even with that experience and confidence, I would not know about the Ironman until I tried it. Unlike other shorter races, you never actually complete the events of the Ironman until race day. Completing them all in one weekend during training is a chore. That I had done,…but never all in one day, with just minutes of transition between each discipline.
The doctor side of me had to be ignored. I realized that many things could go wrong with the human body during an Ironman…up to and including death, as we like to phrase it. This event truly is the ultimate physical and emotional stress test. Seriously…your heart rate is way above normal for up to 17 hours. I trusted in my training, and listened to my body from Day 1 of Training. A worry wart rarely becomes an Ironman.
I was determined to enjoy the journey of the last 6 months…and I wanted to continue this joy through race day. My warm-up race at Wildflower seven weeks before Ironman was a blast. I was proud of the 25 lbs (15% of my body weight) that I had shed through training and healthy eating. I could not be happier. Turns out, I had also unknowingly inspired others along the way to make positive changes in their lives.
I was determined not to dwell on the fact that my work schedule only permitted me to do about 70% of the required workouts. I work over 55 hours a week plus every fourth weekend, leaving for work at 0530 most days. I’m often in the hospital late or even overnight during the week and weekends. I completed the weekend long bike rides and runs about 85% of the time. I ran once during the week, typically 6 miles interval style. I was able to make on average one evening spin class a week. I did not start swimming until 2 months before Ironman and the majority of my swims were open water. I’ll take quality over quantity anyday. I had no injuries. I felt ready.
In the days leading up to the race, I set my goal… to beat my race number (1410). More importantly, I wanted to race a race that would make me proud. I knew to respect the distances. I wanted to have a smart race, but I did not want to hold back in fear. I trusted in my training and coaches. I did not want to look back and regret going too slow when I truly had it in me. In other words, I did not want to waste my training. Of course, I had to be in tune with my body and realize that ending up in a medical tent is always possible when you take on an Ironman. Almost as bad though is going out too fast, bonking, and having a truly miserable experience. I wanted more than anything to finish strong and have fun.
I’ll leave the re-hashing of the race conditions and course to others, but here are some of my memories:
I was not nervous before the gun fired. I tuned out the wind, the cold, the choppy water, and the helicopters circling overhead. The silicone in my ears (to protect my eardrums from the cold water) kept me from hearing the National Anthem and the nervous race chatter around me. As Coach Maurice advised, I ran out with the pack at the start and never looked back. I kept my sighting to a minimum, trusting that all the bubbles in my vicinity were a sign that I was headed in the right direction. When I survived the first 200m without any signs of panic, I knew it was going to be a great day. I smiled as I exhaled and basically said out loud underwater…”I’m doing a f*cking Ironman.” I only had to stop once when my goggles got dislodged by someone’s kick. In a nutshell, the water was the ideal temperature and clarity for me, and I felt very aggressive in the water. I didn’t know my time (1hr, 23 min) until later, but as I exited T1 on my bike, the clock said (1hr, 30 min). Sweet. I smiled and said now let’s do a 112 mile bike ride.
The course was familiar from riding it on the Computrainer and driving it before the race. One of the benefits of having such a great swim (for me) was that I was ahead of many of my teammates, so I saw them as they passed. I felt I was part of the race and not at the back of the pack. Scenery was amazing and I took it all in. I did not want to hammer it too much. My bike is a 10 year old road bike with heavy pedals, so I knew that a 7 hr bike ride would be a nice goal. I felt the hills were tough, but similar to what we ride back in Austin. I did the first loop in 3.5 hrs, but the second loop took me 4 hrs. My nutrition and hydration plans were right on target. I never felt like I was bonking on the bike. I thought for some reason that my run was going to go well (although I had only run a marthon once before). My legs felt great.
I thank the Tri gods that the rain stayed away during the bike. That would have been treacherous and miserable. I felt great as I started to run. I was smiling inside (and I think outside) the entire marathon. The light drizzle was refreshing. My body felt awesome. I never hit a wall. I passed so many people…I felt like a champion. I only stopped for a few seconds at each water stop (and probably 8 pee stops) and for a few minutes for a kind volunteer to make me a cape of Mylar to help keep me dry and warm. Yes, I ran the whole thing! I actually was afraid to stop because of the fear that I may not restart. Even at the end when I was trying to establish space so I could have my own stage, I zigzagged across Sherman Avenue letting others pass. I heard Carrie and a bunch of T3 supporters, but the bright lights and darkness blinded me. I wanted to finish below my number, which I did (14:03). Then I heard it with my own two ears. It echoed through that little Idaho town from the lips of Mike O’Reilly…”Shawn Barrett, you are an Ironman.”
Three minutes after finishing (while I was waiting for my Finisher’s photo), I started to feel light-headed. I was surprised that they did not have water nearby. I sat down on a stool and felt much better. Coach Charles brought me some water, while Carrie summoned an actual doctor from the med tent. I was escorted back to the warm med tent and proceeded to rapidly drink 4 bottles of water. I then began to feel chilled and started shivering despite 4 blankets and warm chicken broth. Once my Ironman engine had stopped producing its own heat, the chill of the Idaho air set in. I am so thankful that the weather was cool, as I can only imagine how dehydrated I would have been on a hot day.
I pushed my body and mind to the extreme on that memorable day in Coeur d’Alene, surrounded by an amazing network of T3 teammates and supporters. I gave thanks to all who inspired me and encouraged me along the way, with my amazing wife Carrie being at the top of the list. I remembered my dear late sister-in-law who believed so much in the power of the human spirit. I was thankful for having been blessed with the basic abilities to achieve such a goal, but also proud of my own grit, determination, willpower, dedication, and courage to take those abilities to the next level… and make the seemingly improbable Ironman journey over the past many years a reality. See you in St. George!!
Carrie’s Race Report
The 2nd Time Around
It seems trivial to be writing my Ironman Coeur d’Alene recap while watching “Farrah’s Story,” the documentary about Farrah Fawcett’s battle and recent loss with cancer. However, as I’m watching and writing, her words and quotes about hope, determination, and love echo in my mind as I put my own thoughts to paper. Suddenly, I’m inspired to tell my little Ironman story.
At the beginning of the Farrah documentary (that has now sucked me in all weekend long), she mentions that she had always been a risk-taker and was prone to take the path of MOST resistance throughout most of her life and career. While going about things the hard way is sure to produce a few bumps and bruises, it also carries with it a tremendous amount of reward and gratitude. I figured that would be a good place to start the recap. I, too, have always been a risk-taker. I have felt that lump in my throat and those butterflies in my stomach more times than I care to imagine whether on stage or at a race. I’ve fallen on my face a few times, but I have soared countless other times. Wow…Farrah and I have something in common. However, that is probably the place where the similarities between me and Farrah stop :-). Although I did have some rockin’ feathered hair as a kid. It just looked more like Scott Baio than Farrah Fawcett. And while I’m sure I’ve produced some nippage in a bathing suit, it has never graced the walls of millions of adolescent boys (that I’m aware of).
Back to the race…
As we stood on the beach with 2200 other athletes, it was hard to imagine that this race had been a year in the making. Shawn and I had signed up together, as a team, in June 2008. While official training didn’t kick start until January 2009, there’s something about Ironman that looms on your mind, heart, and soul every minute of the day from the moment you sign up until the second the canon fires.
The whole training season felt almost like a dream at that point. I heard a quote recently that was something to the effect of, “You remember moments in life, not the details.” The whole week leading up to the race and the morning of the race were filled with so many of those “moments” that I’ll remember for a lifetime. Plus–my mind was thinking back to the many monumental moments of this training season: Our first team ride of 2009 that was a memorial to our teammate Erin who had recently died, our trips to Johnson City to ride hills only to be followed with picnics and wine, my surprise trip to California that included a 20-mile run around San Francisco and a century ride in and around Napa Valley, our first experience with the Wildflower Triathlon culture, happy hours at the Barrett’s, dinners at Whole Foods and Freebirds after spin classes, impromptu Happy Hours at House Wine when another night of spin sounded deplorable, cupcakes, Engine 2 eating, MS 150 improvisation with Greyhound, Shawn and Coach Liz, etc…..At that moment, it didn’t matter if I was averaging 1:50s on my 100 meter swims (I wasn’t), or if I was running 6:00 miles (again, I wasn’t). What mattered was that these series of moments with old and so many new friends brought me to the beach where I stood as the canon fired.
I was embarking on my 2nd Ironman. How would it compare to the first? I’d soon find out.
I’ve read the reports and I concur. It was a choppy swim from start to finish. As a little chick, it’s easy to get tossed around and pummeled by everyone else who appears to be male and bigger than you. Screw that. When they pushed, I pushed back. When they grabbed my arm, I kept pulling. When they kicked, I kicked harder. I had to. I held my own with the masses (as a middle pack swimmer, you are in the masses!) The chop was rough on the way out, but I was wearing silicone ear plugs and two caps to try to alleviate any pending motion sickness. Fortunately, it did the trick and I never once felt nauseous as a result of the waves. On the way back towards the shore, I intelligently swam inside the buoys and actually got to swim instead of kickbox. My mind plays tricks a lot on the swim because I tend to feel more comfortable swimming in “no man’s land” away from the crowds. Conventional wisdom says it’s better to swim with others to catch their draft. I just didn’t want to catch their left hook. I exited the first look in 36:00 minutes which is pretty typical of a 1.2 mile swim for me. I started doing the math in my head–I could conceivably come out in 1:15 or better–which was the way fast end of my prediction. As it turns out, the 2nd loop took longer than the first and I came out in 1:17…Still incredibly ecstatic with that time and heart-rate remarkably low (ok–relatively low). I never saw Shawn on the swim, so I hoped and prayed that he was doing o.k. as we took on our individual journeys and race plans.
So this had been a personal dilemma for several weeks. What was I going to wear on race day?! I had already made the decision to ride my Erin Baker’s Kestrel–a bike that had only seen three outdoor rides and none over 50 miles. I know there was some “Carrie is freakin’ crazy” chatter behind my back, but I didn’t care. Life is all about taking chances. In my opinion, switching bike choices two weeks before Ironman was a minor risk. So, my next challenge was which race kit to don at the big dance. I’m obligated (in a good way!) to wear my Erin Baker’s race kit to at least one Ironman this year or two 70.3 races. There were seven of us from the Erin Baker’s Tri Team racing Ironman Coeur d’Alene and I wanted to represent and show my pride and gratitude for being selected (and hopefully not embarrass our sponsors too much). However, I wasn’t officially selected on the team until late March and have been training with T3 for three years. I also wanted to wear blue. This particular T3 Team has been so unique and special to me. So, I made the decision to wear my Erin Baker’s Race Kit on the bike (while riding the sweet Kestrel) and would switch to T3 blue for the run. A good combination and a stellar compromise. Unfortunately, it was really chilly on the bike course so I spent most of it donning a fluorescent pink pull-over! yikes…so not me.
So, off on the bike I headed after a very calculated and calm T1…I was wearing arm warmers, my EB jersey, a pink pull-over, gloves and ear warmers for the bike. At any time I was prepared to shed layers as it got warmer throughout the day. However, I never felt overheated and pretty much stuck to that dorky look for what turned out to be 6 hrs 23 minutes. In an odd way, I liked being “incognito” on the bike. So many people were wearing their T3 cycling jersey so you could always tell who was in front and who was behind. My stealth look (hot pink is hardly stealth) allowed me to speed up and slow down as needed without any question. In an odd way, it took pressure off of my bike performance. I don’t have a computer on the new bike yet, so I just turned on my Garmin and had it set to my Average Heart Rate. I didn’t think about speed…Just keeping my avg between 143-150. I knew there was wind, but I didn’t really feel it. I felt fantastic on the bike and kept dialing myself back. Throughout the day, I was surprised to see that I was pacing along with people who are MUCH faster than me on the bike. Of course, this led to some internal doubting, “Am I going too fast? Should I slow down? Am I getting cocky?” Through it all, I just monitored how I felt and adjusted accordingly. At times, I heard Shawn go by me on an out and back section. I know it was him from his trusty, “WOO HOO” as he buzzed by. He was having a great time and so was I. The course and surrounding areas were amazingly beautiful. It would’ve been a shame not to appreciate that and I’m glad I did. At the end of the first bike loop, I was averaging 18 mph…oops. That was faster than my original plan, but my heart rate had leveled at 144 and I felt comfortable there. I only looked when I stopped for a porta-potty break and peed for what felt like 10 minutes. You know that scene from “The Naked Gun” movie when Leslie Nielson is peeing on microphone and it doesn’t end?! That’s TOTALLY how I felt! I couldn’t help but laugh as I envisioned those who were waiting outside for me to hurry the hell up. One thing was causing a little stress on the bike (ok–a LOT of stress). My aerobars were loose and shifting to the left during the ride. Therefore, even though my wheel was pointed straight ahead, my handle bars were at 11 o’clock. I was steering crooked. Because I wasn’t totally sure what was happening, I was extra-cautious on the hills and turns. Seriously, I kept waiting for the handlebars to fall off on a descent. At that restroom break, I very easily (too easily) straightened the bars back up and hammered back to town. Apparently, they were jiggled in transit a bit.
The second loop was a little more humbling than the first. I swear the hills grew a few feet while I was away. When we hit the 15 miles of hills, my legs felt it. I was out of the saddle more the second time to give my legs a change of scenery. Still though, I was holding my own and my nutrition was working…Sipping Perpetuum every 15-20 minutes…filling my aero bottle at every aid station, dropping Nuun in the water for some much-needed electrolytes. It all felt good. Unfortunately, my aerobars had shifted again and I spent much of the second loop riding slightly crooked. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see Mile 96 on the bike and know that we were done with the hills and were now heading back to town. The wind had picked up so I worked a little harder heading back to town. The Kestrel was awesome and I felt strong and ready for my favorite part of the day—the Marathon!! I came into T2 thrilled with my bike split of 6:23 and an overall average of 17.5 mph. I hadn’t lost much time at all on Loop 2. Throughout training, I had assumed a 16.5-17mph possible average given the difficulty of the course. I had ridden the Computrainer course and it had chewed me up and spit me out. Today, I bit back and still had plenty in the tank to go. I was totally in my Zone and racing my race.
I came into T2 and again acted on a decision that I had only made the day before. Instead of wearing tri shorts on the run, I switched to running shorts along with my T3 tri jersey. It was a full costume change that would slow down my overall transition time. God Bless the volunteers who are there watching the athletes strip down to nothing. My volunteer helped me take my shirts off like a 2 year old. Literally, she told me to just hold my arms up and she would take care of the rest. Thank Goodness…I’d still be trying to get the damn shirts off if not for her. She was chatting with me as I was grabbing for shoes, hats, etc. I told her I was so ready for “the easy part.” (ha ha–such bravado) I entered Ironman Coeur D’Alene with a strategic goal of breaking 12:00 hrs. I knew I could do it on the perfect day. But, it would have to be PERFECT. At this point, I was 2 for 2…My swim within my target range and my bike spit bought me some time. I just had to run a steady marathon and it would be in the bag. I had an internal yearning to break 4 hours on the marathon all season long and set off to do just that. But first…another long-ass pee in transition.
I pulled a Wonder Woman and was now in my T3 jersey, running shorts and arm warmers. I could no longer hide. If I bonked, everyone would know. My first couple of miles were 8:40s…a bit faster than I wanted to go, but very much in control. Gary from Canada passed me in the first mile and said his “hellos!” As always, it’s awesome to meet people you only hear and read about in their blogs. I saw Logan who told me that I better pass him soon! (It would take me about 5 miles to do so). Booher wasn’t having it. He was on a mission and looking strong. As I did on the first two legs of the race, I just stayed within myself and didn’t get too caught up in the race excitement. Honestly, the only person I was trying to beat was me. I had no idea where I was in my age group and assumed that it didn’t really matter. It was impossible, however, to ignore the screams and cheers of the T3 Fan Club on various corners. They were amazing and provided a much-needed boost of energy that I carried with me through subsequent miles.
I hit my first dark moment at Mile 9 of the marathon when it hit me that (and I quote), “I still have 17 F*CKING miles to run.” For some reason, that moment was a low one for me because the race seemed so far from over and I had been in perpetual motion for over 9 hours at that point. Thankfully, I fueled with a little cup of coke and a gel and was instantly lifted back to where I needed to be. I saw my sweet husband who was still stoked and hoping to break 14:00 hrs. By this point, it was raining on the course and the temperature had dropped significantly. I never remember being cold at all, but I do remember seeing a bunch of people walking and shivering. I was also passing so many T3 people on the out and back portion of the course along the lake…Every single person had a word or motion of encouragement for each other. It was amazing. I headed back into town feeling energized for a moment and then hit another “rough patch” in the neighborhoods beginning Loop 2. Everyone always talks about the one big hill at the turnaround, but they never mention the hills in the neighborhoods. I was feeling it on the second loop and a few of my miles were over 9:00s. I wasn’t freaking because I was still averaging about 8:45s overall. I was a little concerned that the bonk would continue and I wouldn’t recover. I took another gel and then just began to assess how I felt at each aid station. I drank about 2 cups of the warm broth for sodium and about 2 cups of cola. Other than that, I just had my gels and water. Gradually, I began to feel better and better and was running strong again.
The last five miles were like a dream. It was just as I had envisioned it. Still daylight…cool air…smiles…legs working…no cramps…sub 4:00 hr marathon…I wanted to holler and scream, but I was just too plain exhausted to exude any emotion that might render me useless. There was nothing like turning onto Sherman Ave and hearing people hooting and hollering for you like you are some kind of celebrity. I could see the big giant Ironman inflatable in the distance and just couldn’t believe I was home. I even turned to a guy running next to me and said, “Holy Shit, that’s the Finish!” I’m not sure what got into me, but I was at a near sprint and pumping my fists in the air. It was an explosion of emotion as I realized that I had, indeed, hit my sub 12:00 hr Ironman with almost 15 minutes to spare. And…I was still feeling good! (all things considered) Rhonda was running along beside me as was Raul and Tracy who were filming my dash. I caught up with and passed Booher and I just had no control over my emotions or legs. It felt great and I was done with arms in the air.
Friends and supporters were there with immediate hugs…Dr. Sellers escorted me into the massage tent…Afterwards, I aimlessly strolled around a bit to grab my dry clothes bag and layer up so that I could wait for Shawn to Finish… I was hanging at Java on Sherman with the Boohers and Najeras as we monitored his progress…Everyone said Shawn looked great throughout the day. Finally, we hit the street and spotted him from a distance weaving back and forth…What was he doing?! He was so close to being an Ironman and I couldn’t wait to be with him!! Turns out he was letting others go ahead of him so that he could savor his MOMENT.
Overall, this particular experience was once-in-a-lifetime and yet, as magical as the first. Not only did I share it with 60 other teammates (who are now great friends), but with my husband. Together, we transformed our minds, souls and bodies to achieve this life-changing event together. For that, I am so thankful and can’t wait to do it again.
12th out of 126 in my Age Group
Wow… only 2 minutes out of the Top 10 in an Ironman. What would it take to qualify for Kona??? Hmmmmmmm……