Monday, July 8, 2013

IM CdA 2013 Race Report

Coeur d’Alene has been a lot of firsts for me:
2008: first Ironman
2009: first time I made an Ironman podium
2010: first time I won my Age Group and first time I qualified for Kona
2011: first time I qualified for a pro license
2013 (spoiler alert): first time I finished as the top amateur in ANY race
Pre-race tradition: zip from Coach K
I signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene after a somewhat disappointing Ironman Wisconsin last fall. It wasn’t for any specific placing; I wanted some redemption at the distance and also wanted to take a crack at earning my way back to the big island. I got my Kona slot, but through the course of training and having the race that I did, I decided not to take it. Still, I gained so much more throughout this “Ironman journey” than I thought I would. I feel like the past six months I’ve regained confidence, fitness, and health that were somewhat lacking at the end of 2012. I feel like a real runner again and I’m fueling better for optimal training. The hard workouts, sacrifices, and challenges overcome taught me lessons in priorities and made me fall in love with this sport all over again, even if it means taking a little break from the full Ironman distance for a while.
I drove over to CdA on Thursday night after work and stayed with my friend Kara, her sister Helen, and her dad Cecil. Friday was a rest day that was spent sleeping in, picking up my race number and transition bags, and also attending the super cheesy (but I like it) athlete banquet (besides, free food with other athletes and friends - it's a no brainer, in my opinion). Saturday morning was spent as a quick swim, bike, and run to test the waters, check out gears, and shake out the legs. Sydnie, Gerry, and Graeme traveled over from Seattle to join the fun and help me with any Sherpa duties. Overall, it was pretty much the same routine I’ve had the past 4 times I’ve done CdA. I like to keep things consistent, even getting as anal retentive as trying to wear the same kit the day before for my swim, bike, run. It gets a little nuts (like wearing the same t-shirt on the travel day), but it puts my mind at ease and makes it feel like something I can control. Saturday afternoon I checked in my gear, did a walk through of transition, and ate an early dinner in downtown CdA with my friends before going to bed.

I tossed and turned Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning not feeling super awesome, but ready to get this $h*t done. That was kind of my motto for the past month. I wasn’t really going crazy about how I’d place, but I wanted to beat the crap out of the distance and leave everything I could out on the course. I choked down my breakfast, sprayed down the SPF, and Sydnie dropped me off near the start. I dropped off my special needs bags, got body marked, and then finished setting up my bike – air in the tires (thank you to the girl from SF who let me borrow her pump), chocolate PowerBars on the top tube, Garmin turned on to Multisport mode. I then made my way to the honey buckets before meeting up with my coach and team. I wasn't feeling that feeling that great and wanted one more stop at the bathroom. Kara told me about the flush toilets at the back of the park with no line. I headed over there and puked up half my breakfast. "Puke & Rally" is the name of my Hood to Coast team, so I figured that's what I had to do.  

Hugs from my friends, final words of advice from my coach, and a kiss from my boyfriend (after rinsing out my mouth), and I was headed to the swim start. I walked down with Kara and we got in a good warm-up. We even had enough space and time to practice a beach start. I saw my friend Derek and chatted with him a bit, noting the nice conditions, as we looked at the American flag draped along the pole. No wind and good temps would make for a quick day! After the National Anthem, the athletes were directed to line up for the swim.
I was skeptical of the new Ironman swim start, but actually very, very impressed with how smoothly things went. The athletes I lined up with seemed to be in the correct start position, as the folks I chatted with were hoping to swim within the same range as me. After the starting gun, there was a steady stream and I would guess it took me about 2 minutes to cross the timing mat and get into the water. I ran a few steps and took a (I’m sure less than graceful) dive and immediately there was open water. It wasn't the cluster I remember from past IM CdA swim starts and the warmer lake temperature this year was equally nice. My swim loops were pretty even in terms of time and I had a good, not great, swim coming out of the water in 1:07:07…chipping away from the old days of being a brand new triathlete. I made a few errors in the water allowing myself to get blocked in and not making a move to swim around people, but overall it was a good swim. But still, lots of work to do in the pool! T1 was quick and I was on my bike 3 minutes and 22 seconds later.
Super graceful on the mount
It was a GORGEOUS day to be on the bike. Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful town and challenging bike courses and awesome landscapes keep me coming back! The plan was the ride steady and strong all day and to keep within a range of power zones. I was also conscious, like always, of getting the proper number of calories, hydration, and salt per hour in order to get off and run strong. I set my Garmin to go off every 15 minutes as a reminder to eat and try to get in around 300 calories/hour. Since I’m not a strong swimmer, I have to rely on my “swim and catch up” race plan and with Ironman it can be 112 miles of trying to make as many passes as I can. If I’m able to do that effectively, it makes for a frigging awesome bike ride. Lap 1 was strong and fast and I passed a lot of people, but it was also really crowded. It didn’t feel like I was making tons of progress in moving up, because there were still so many riders out there. After making my way through town on the second loop and heading out for the last 36 mile out and back, I got a sense of where I was and that I was moving up to the front of the field. And man, I was HAVING FUN! I never felt tapped out or tired, just strong and cautious the entire ride. Looking back, there was one climb towards the end that I wish I would have focused on more and ridden harder, but other than that it was a pretty great ride. I finished the bike in 5:28:44, which I believe was the second fastest amateur bike split of the day.

This ride gets a thumbs up!
At T2 I hopped off my bike, grabbed my bag from a volunteer and did a quick shoe change in the women's change tent as the ladies handed me my visor and strapped my race belt on me. In 1:55 I was out of transition and on the run course. Oh, Ironman run, you humble us all. Even on our strongest days, you take our legs, chew them up, and spit them out to run 13 more miles. I've thought a lot about this year's run, as it was challenging, frustrating, defeating, and ultimately rewarding. But a lot of my feelings are because of what happened with the competition.

As I started the run, there was one girl (#131) who left T2 just a few seconds in front of me. Unlike 2011 when I heard the announcers say I was in second place, this year I was unaware exactly where I was off the bike. After hearing some cheers from the crowd, I quickly learned I was in third. Third off the bike was a good spot. I trusted myself on the run and knew that if I ran MY race, I could put down a very competitive time. I also knew there were some fast girls coming up behind me, like Sarah Graves (from Montana who has done well on the 70.3 circuit and is also a marathon Olympic trials veteran. In a stand alone marathon, she would absolutely crush me.) By mile 6, I passed one girl who looked strong enough, but not super quick (she would end up finishing 4th in my AG and also would end up getting my Kona slot) and I could see #131 was about 45 seconds ahead at the turnaround (mile 6.5).

Lap 1 feeling good- running my pace, feeling strong

By mile 10, I could see #131 and knew it was my chance to take the lead. What crossed my mind was: do I run MY race or do I go for it and take the lead? I freaking went for it. There are a lot of unknowns in life and in my Ironman demented brain, I decided that I'd rather have that experience of running out in front and losing it than never going for it. I thought of my dad watching the results online and how it would make him light up, if I could take the lead. And I thought of my mom's strength and what she has passed on to me. At that point, we were running around 7:40 miles and I really should have been running 7:50s or 7:55s. I just kept thinking that I'd easily drop #131, but I could see her out of the corner of my eye at some of the turns. I kept telling myself, just stay in front through town, you have a lot of fans out there and it will be a big boost to you if she hears your friends cheering for you. I heard them and got a good boost, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to last me through the finish. By mile 16, she passed me back. I put in a couple surges to get ahead, but it wasn't enough. She dropped me easily as I continued my Ironman slog.

Lap 2 pain train - just.hang.on - some excellent run form here...yeah right!
Miles 18 and 19 were especially tough and there were a lot of swear words going back and forth in my brain. I tried not to beat myself up for making a move at mile 10; it was the right thing to do. I think if I had more energy at that point, there would have been tears. My nutrition was right on, but my legs were shot from going out hard. Finally, I hit the turnaround and was headed back to town. The last 6 miles weren't pretty, but I can assure you I was working freaking hard for those 8:30 pace (er...perhaps slower) miles. I held on long enough to not let any other girls pass me. Right before I took my final left turn onto Sherman, I saw Laurie, Sydnie, and Kainoa who all looked proud and happy. I made my turn and headed for the finish line. I tried to soak it in a little, as I was proud of my fight and pleased with my race. As I reached the finish line I put my hands over my heart in memory of the victims from Boston as Mike Reilly called me an Ironman. I finished my run in 3:35:40, which was a bit slower than I had hoped, but still good enough for the 4th fastest amateur run. My total finish time was 10:16:48, which was 46 seconds off my PR from 2011.

Smiling in this photo
Minutes later, after getting my finish line hug and getting help from the generous volunteers (including my friend Courtney who was catching), Sydnie, Gerry, Graeme, Adam, and Jenn were near the finish line to congratulate me. It was great having them there. Eventually I made my way to the athlete recovery area to sit down in a lawn chair while I had some chicken soup and called my dad to give him a short play-by-play. I then ate some pizza and chatted with a few other athletes (like Anabel) before meeting up with my friends.

But wait there's more!

My friends and I were hanging out in the grass waiting to pick up my bike when Sydnie got a text message from Kainoa saying that the results changed and the girl (#131) who finished a few minutes ahead of me was no longer listed. I had moved up from 2nd to 1st. The only possible explanation was a disqualification, but it was all a bit mysterious why she'd run so hard if something had happened on the bike. Or maybe something happened and she didn't know? It was all very confusing and I wasn't even sure of my place until the next day when I saw the official results at the Kona roll down table. I asked what happened and was told #131 was DQ'd, but the person at the table also didn't know why. It wasn't until I emailed Race Information (because I don't ever want to make that same mistake) that I got my answer. They informed me: "that the infractions were multiple drafting violations, earning a red card, but the DQ was for not going to the penalty tent."

Initially I felt really sorry for #131 thinking she had made a mistake unknowingly that cost her the race. But after getting clarification, I just felt frustrated for her lack of sportsmanship that directly affected my race. I realize I have the world's tiniest violin playing for me as I bitch about my Ironman run that resulted in a first place finish. But it DID change my race execution. Had I known that the girl in front of me would eventually get disqualified, I wouldn't have pushed the pace mid-race. I would have put up the blinders and run according to my race plan. I still don't regret making the move that I did, I'm just disappointed that my feelings of defeat as I finished in second place were because of someone's disrespect for the rules and good sportsmanship.

There were good lessons that I learned from day 1 of Ironman training through race day, and there will be fond memories from my first amateur win. After turning down my Kona spot a couple weeks ago, I've had some time to reflect and I still believe it was the right decision. I need some time before I get fired up for my next Ironman and there are things I need to work on to get faster. Thank you to everyone who supported me on race day - in person and from afar. I've been lucky to be matched with some great sponsors: Oiselle, Nuun Hydration, BlueSeventy, and Seattle Performance Medicine who keep me outfitted, hydrated, and healthy. I have a wonderful coach and team who challenge me with workouts and inspire me to keep racing. And I've been blessed with family and friends who support me no matter what, put up with my training, eating, and sleeping schedules, and teach me to never, ever give up. I love you all.
Until the next one,

So happy in this picture! 1st AG and 1st Amateur Female! Dream come true!
2nd place is my friend Julie. She and I have been training together since Lake Stevens 70.3 in 2006
Other random thoughts:
A note to future IM participants: never try to be first in line at packet pick-up. Kara and I went at noon on Friday with no lines. And they told us the people who showed up at 10am (when it opened) had an hour wait.

Puking up half your breakfast isn’t always a bad sign. I felt 10x better after a final stop at the bathroom.
Mad props to the bike course marshals for keeping the riders honest. Although it’s hard to get in a rhythm at mile 80 when you’re paranoid about drafting penalties, it makes for a fair race. And they even gave me a thumbs-up when I made a strong, strategic 4-person pass uphill. It was nice not to see any packs or trains out there on the bike course.
At mile 3 of the run there was a sign that said: “think about the reasons you run.” The first time I passed it, I was all emotional. The second time I passed it (mile 15), I paid zero attention. I couldn’t spare any extra emotion. All my feelings were going into the pain throughout my body.  
Two years ago I had a 57 second T2, but they moved transition around this year and I had to run farther around the basketball hoops. This year I made my way onto the run course in 1:55 (I needed that minute to PR!).

I talked to my mom after the race and told her about the 1st/2nd place confusion. A week later once things got straightened out, she asked me: "so were you like REALLY the first place female for amateurs?" Yes, mom, really I was.

I passed my friend Geoff and his friend around mile 70 on the bike. He later said that he told his friend: "See that girl up there in the orange? That's my friend Cathleen. She's gonna win it, she's killin it today." Thanks for the vote of confidence, Geoff. It was great training with you this year.

One of the ladies who swims Masters in my lane asked me about my race and if I got a Kona spot. I told her I got one, but I didn't take it. Her response was: "so you are normal!" I'm still not quite sure what she meant, but I took it as a compliment.

In 2005 I paced my friend Lori during a marathon and we bought yellow ribbons in support of her friend Andrea who was battling pancreatic cancer. (We also accomplished a lifetime goal of running a race in a sports bra.) On June 10, 2013, Andrea lost her long, courageous fight with cancer. This year on race day, I wore that yellow ribbon from 2005 for Lori and Andrea. I'm quite certain it brought me strength.

I was so happy I packed extra tubes of nuun! Monday morning, I drank 3 water bottles of Lemonade and Cherry Limeade with double tabs, as it was the only thing that sounded good for food or drink.

It's super tempting to sign up for CdA 2014, but I'm going to wait a few months to see how the rest of my summer training goes.


  1. You are an inspiration - enough said. Congrats on a great race and on your win!

    1. Thanks Meghan! I hope to see you this summer at some running races and Oiselle events!

  2. Congrats, love your work as always!! Enjoy your summer and can't wait to hear about future plans :)

    1. Thank you so much, Alyssa! Although I am bummed we won't meet up in Kona, I'm excited to follow your IM training the rest of this year and beyond. I have no doubt we will meet up at the races soon enough!

  3. Congrats on an amazing race - I followed you, not knowing about your blog (someone just passed it to me) during the day because you were racing my friend... #131. She is an AMAZING athlete and gave her all that day. She had absolutely NO idea she received a penalty and spent hours on the phone with the race official who gave her the DQ, but was not successful. She's completely heart broken at what happened. She has been a competitive athlete all her life and had she known she received the penalty (she has NEVER received one in her 4 years of triathlon) she absolutely would have served the time.

    I don't want to take away from your amazing achievement, but just wanted you to know... she shouldn't be discredited. I honestly believe this was a mistake on the part of the volunteer who claimed she didn't serve her time.

    1. Thank you, Krista. I really appreciate your comment and your honest feedback. I was hesitant to write anything about the DQ, but since it ended up being such a big part of my race and I feel like this blog is mostly for my own catharsis, I wanted to document it. I delayed posting anything until I had more information and even looked to the amateur athlete blogs, Slowtwitch, and other social media to see if there was any information about what happened to #131. But at the end of the day, the only response I had was from the race organizers. I will never know what went on out on the bike course and I am sorry for what happened on both of our accounts. I can only imagine how awful it has been for her. I can just hope for good sportsmanship by all athletes in any field going forward. I intentionally left her name out of this, but I assume we will see strong athletic performances from your friend in the future. Best of luck to you this season as well.

  4. Not only a great triathlete, but a wonderful writer as well. Congratulations Cathleen. (Although I don't understand the "normal" comment. haha)

    1. Thanks, Judy! I'm still working on both the running and the writing. Big races help in both areas. :)

  5. Huge Congrats Cathleen!! Alyssa and I were thinking about you this weekend when we were riding in the rain! (Wondering if it's always like that in Seattle...) Recover well and hope to see you at some races later this year!!

    1. Thanks for the sweet message, Haley! It's definitely not always rainy in Seattle. In fact, I think next year you two should plan your training camp out here! Not sure if our races will match up this year, but one day for sure. I think we both have a lot of years of racing still left in us!

  6. You are amazing Cathleen... congrats on your well deserved victory... INSPIRING to all of us! Cheers, John Bergen.

  7. JB - my Ironman Big Brother: I'm looking forward to being part of your inspiring performance next month at Ultraman. Thanks for the kind message!