Sunday, July 20, 2014

Race Report: Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2014

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. On one hand, my race in Coeur d’Alene wasn’t anything special. My time was about 15 minutes off from how I raced in 2011 and it didn’t unfold into any spectacular finish like my amateur win in 2013. But on the other hand, my first professional Ironman is a big effing deal (for me at least). And if I didn’t document some of the memories from such a special weekend, I would regret it years from now. Let me start off by saying “thank you” to my coach, teammates, friends, family, boyfriend, host family, competitors, and all the people in Coeur d’Alene who either supported me in getting to the start line or were there on race day. Without this support system, triathlon wouldn’t be nearly as fun or rewarding, and my life would be quite lonely.

I'm the third from the left, thankful I blend in with the other pros. Picture credit here.

Onto the race…as I lined up to race last month in Coeur d’Alene, I thought about how doing this was one of the scarier things I’ve ever done. It wasn’t the distance or the conditions that frightened me - my 11th Ironman and I’ve seen my share of windy days. It was the exposure of racing up front and against some of the best athletes in our sport. “Everyone would be watching” is what I told myself. All the spectators on the beach and athletes waiting to start were watching my start and would be able to see how quickly (or slowly) I’d make my way through the first loop of the swim. Thirty-five minutes *should* be enough to get through 1.2 miles, but I worried about getting dropped before the first turn and swimming solo the entire way. As I watched the men start, I seriously wondered if any professional athlete had ever had a panic attack before even getting in the water. I took some deep breaths and knew I couldn’t set that stage for the age groupers watching. Besides, get it together, Cathleen, you prepared for this! Be courageous and trust the training and years of experience that have basically been a gift in getting you here.

Part of the reason I was a bit intimidated. Photo credit here.

Backing up a bit, Ironman Coeur d’Alene is one of my favorite race weekends. I get to meet up with some old and new friends and I usually know the best spots for dinner, a cup of coffee, or a post-race beer. I’ve had pretty good results here several times and I like the local feel, being only a long drive from Seattle. I often have a handful of teammates toeing the line for their first Ironman, which is always fun to see. This year I had the pleasure of getting to know the CDA community even more by staying with a generous host family – the Pinkertons, who fully immersed themselves in volunteering. My race weekend started out well and everything was pretty much stress-free in getting to the start line. I had the usual pre-race routine and met with my coach to zip up my wetsuit and get final good luck hugs from friends and teammates.

With my friends Helen and Cecil.
As I mentioned above, I was a bit scared at the beach start, but when it all came down to it, I had the BALLS to dive in and start racing. With a strong wind all day, we had some pretty serious chop on Lake Coeur d’Alene. After the 8 pro women went off it was basically swim as hard as you can and don’t get dropped until you settle into a rhythm. I remember thinking it was sensory overload as I kicked and stroked and breathed. Every breath to the right, I could see the flashing lights from the police boat as the waves bobbled us up and down and up and down. Finally, I settled into a pack with Olesya, Ali, and Jennie. I stuck with them until the second turn buoy where I got a mouth full of water. It was a big enough gulp that I needed to cough it up and lost their feet. Luckily, I swam hard enough to catch back up before we were back at shore to finish our first loop. We made it through the first loop in about 32:40, ran on shore, and were back in the water to start loop 2. Two minutes into our second loop the age group wave started and my pack of four pro women was quickly swallowed up. I’ll admit, it kind of sucked getting swum over by the fast age groupers, but it’s motivation for me to keep working harder in the pool and eventually crack the hour barrier in an Ironman. I made it out of the water in 1:06:37.
Starting loop 2 - I'm second here.
I was quick through the empty transition tent, much different than the crowded T1 tents in my age group days, and ready to bike. We all knew it’d be a slower day on the bike with a strong headwind on the up hills and tailwind on the down hills. My time goals were readjusted and I tried to focus on power. I knew I was in 7th place after the swim and I quickly passed Jennie Hansen, who it turned out was having mechanical issues all day. Not long after that, Ali Black passed me and we all held our positions the remainder of the ride. I struggled quite a bit on the bike. At some point during our first loop I could tell I was having stomach problems. I figured I’d be fine and would just use a honey bucket in T2. But as I started the second loop, I felt so bloated I thought I might crap my shorts. I don’t know if it was some seasickness from the choppy swim or the amount of lake water I swallowed or something that went wrong in my nutrition plan the days prior. But my stomach ached and it was getting to the point where I was struggling to eat. I figured a quick stop in a porta potty was a safer bet than no calories and I also thought briefly of this post from Jordan Rapp. There are worse things that could happen with stomach issues. All the bike times were slower than past years, but I rolled in with a 5:49 – ouch.

Two shots - not sure if the second pic is just a bad angle or if my
stomach was starting to bloat in the bottom picture.
That's how I felt most of the day. Super attractive.
Based on my run training this year, I was ready to lay down a solid run. I had hoped my stomach settled and based on my lackluster bike knew I didn’t ride too hard. And I actually felt pretty good out there. My pacing was where I wanted it to be to have a run split I could be proud of and I was honestly having a good time. I got to see several of my friends and teammates cheering, volunteering, and racing. I was passed by speedy runner Jennie Hansen about 7 miles in, but I kind of knew that was coming. At the halfway mark, my coach yelled words of encouragement to catch 6th place (Ali), but with 4 bathroom stops on the run (yes, I know), I came up short by less than 2 minutes. There were parts of the run that were super uncomfortable and not because of my legs. In the end, I ran a 3:30 marathon and finished with a total time of 10:30:43 and 7th place for the pro women. I consoled myself knowing I wasn’t the slowest swimmer, biker, or runner, even if I was the slowest finish. Plus, with a small field and purse that paid 8 deep, we all made some cash, which was definitely something new.

As I turned down Sherman Ave to run toward the finish chute, it was truly a special moment. And it wasn’t because I had laid down a blazing fast race or won anything spectacular. But I knew I had followed through on my goal of racing as a professional this year. Yes, I was the last finisher of the pro women, but it took some guts and a hell of a lot of dedication to get to this point. I’ve chatted with a few other pro women who’ve reminded me that it takes some getting used to when you make the leap from amateur to professional. My new competitors have been nothing but nice and inspiring and I’m fortunate that I can consider them my new peers (even when they finish way the hell in front of me…Heather Wurtele). The hours and days after the race I was left on a high of only wanting to work harder and get faster. It helped me realized that “going pro,” as I contemplated for years, was the right decision in keeping this sport fresh and exciting for me.

I learned a lot over Coeur d’Alene race weekend including that in reality I don’t think “everyone” was watching the beach start or really paying too much attention to my race all day. Athletes worry about their own races and spectators sometimes don’t know what’s going on. I know starting with the pros and having a “P” on my calf all day makes people think I’m going to race fast, and that is what I hope for every day. I can use that expectation to push on when things get tough. My boyfriend, friends, teammates, and coach watched as I ran on the beach to complete the first loop of the swim, but I’m the one who put the most pressure on my day. This Ironman made me excited for the rest of the season and future years. There are more races to come. Again, thank you to everyone who made is so special.

Until the next one,

Other random thoughts from race day:
  • It was another fun weekend of racing with my friends David and Adam. We travelled to St. George in 2012, had a blast, bought matching sweatshirts, and take advantage of wearing them together in public when we can. It was great seeing these guys race, but we’ve decided that the three of us often have bad luck with the wind.
It's like they're taking this picture with me!

We LOVE our St. G sweatshirts and leftover pizza.
  • I nerded out at the pro meeting and told Heather Wurtele that she won Ironman CDA the first year I did an Ironman (2008). She was really cool about it.
  • Race morning I asked some random male pro to borrow a bike pump. That random pro was Andy Potts. I was totally star struck. Geez.
  • My host family was awesome! I was very lucky to be paired with such a fun and supportive family. I hope to keep in touch and visit them the next time I’m in CDA. All four of them also volunteered in T1 and had some hilarious stories from the changing tents.
  • Major thanks to my friend Kevin Tu for many of the great pictures above. He takes excellent race day photos.
  • Mike Reilly still pronounces my name wrong. Instead of K-newt-son, he says NUT-son. At the swim start, Jess Smith leaned over and laughed and told me “that’s why you marry a Smith.”
  • I got to know both Jess and Ali Black a little bit during over the weekend. I hope to run into them at other races, as they are both very down to earth and kind.
  • I also got to meet up with Haley Chura who was in town for SMASH. Both she and her mom were really sweet. I was impressed by her dedication to squeeze in a swim workout, which made me understand why she’s so fast. I hope to see her again at some races.
  • I have yet to decide on my 2015 season, but I do hope to race again in CDA. I need to break that 10 hour barrier and doing so in CDA would be really special.
  • Finally, a belated Happy Birthday to my boyfriend. June 29th (race day) was his birthday and he spent it as my Sherpa. :)
Many more races together...hopefully a little faster and not on your birthday.


  1. So great seeing you in CDA, Cathleen!! Congrats again on a great Ironman pro debut and I think Jess might be on to something, haha! See you soon, I'm sure!

  2. WOWSA this looks like a GREAT race! You are a rock star!!! :-)