At 4:30 AM in Coeur d’Alene, hundreds of athletes were already busy with their pre-race tasks under a dark sky, preparing for a long, hot day. Everyone’s miles and laps were now in the bank, and the day ahead would be filled with joy, pain and everything in between. From sunrise to sunset today I’d be among this group, giving this race everything I had.
I had driven over to Coeur d’Alene after swimming early Thursday morning, which gave me two days before the race to get settled and do some shake-out workouts.
The weather was going to be hot, but it was comforting knowing that all of my competitors would be in the same boat. We’d be under the same blazing sun together, with lots of water, electrolytes and ice to help us through.
This time around I knew more about what I was in for on race day. I remembered the feeling of running the marathon off the bike, and I knew some of the mental and physical challenges I’d face. In some ways, I felt more confident and less nervous leading up to raceday, and in other ways, I was more apprehensive. The bike was tougher and the weather would be hotter today than last year in Chattanooga.
Brian and the girls camped overnight to give me the hotel room to myself, and I tucked myself in by 10:30, only waking up once before my 3:30 AM alarm. This was way better than almost an entire sleepless night before CHOO last year.
I jumped out of bed at the first buzz of the alarm. Though I had absolutely no appetite, I ate my bagel and peanut butter, mixed my bike nutrition and put it into flasks, and drove to the start. I found parking within a block of the transition area, and I began to run through my morning routine. Something had made me re-seat my front wheel the day before, and distressingly, the brake was now rubbing. There always seems to be something extra to deal with on race morning! I began to figure out how to adjust it, but the girl racked next to me noticed what I was doing and suggested that I try re-seating the wheel again. I did, and sure enough, the brake was back to normal. Sigh of relief! It was a foreshadowing of how encouraging all of these athletes can be to one another as we get through the day.
After that was done, I saw the first of my amazing support crew for the day, Lisa, who had just driven in from Montana that morning. We exchanged hugs and quickly found the rest of Team Robin – my parents, Brian and the girls, Uncle Johnny, Melissa, Kari, and Solveig. With the excitement of connecting with everyone, I barely had enough time to do my warmup swim. It seemed like a short, busy morning and that helped control my nerves. Now, for the next eleven hours, it would be all forward movement!
The swim is two loops, with an exit and re-entry after the first loop. All of the athletes lined up along the rock wall separating City Park from Lake Coeur d’Alene according to their projected swim times. I placed myself near the front of the line and waited for the gun.
When it was go-time, athletes were allowed to funnel through the starting chute one at a time, and I stepped forward to dive into the water about 1-2 minutes after the starting gun. I felt nothing but pure excitement to start my day. I was prepared for aggressive swimmers as I’d experienced at Whistler, but I was surprised to find that I never touched anyone here. My coach, Ben, advised me to swim well and rely on good technique to be fast, but not over-swim, which would only put me behind on energy and hydration later in the race. I kept my strokes strong but my effort under control, catching as smoothly as possible in the choppy water and letting my thumbs brush my hips to make sure I was completing full strokes.
I didn’t always get a breath every stroke due to the chop, instead spitting or coughing out water a few times. I rounded the buoys at the far end and focused on finishing the first lap. It was fun and sort of exciting to exit the water to all the screaming spectators and then run and dive back in. On the second lap I caught up to some of the slower swimmers and had a harder time getting around groups. It was more stressful than the first lap, especially being sandwiched or squeezed between two or more people, but finally, I heard the spectators as I approached the shore again and the first leg of my race day was complete.
Swim time: 58:07
Division Place: 1
Transition 1: 3:14
Lee Ann and Dana, who I knew were volunteering in the changing tent, got me in and out of there in under four minutes. Thank you, ladies! I was using a beacon tracker, so I started that and tucked it in my pocket before I left transition. It would show my support team exactly where I was at every step of the race, with my paces and times listed.
The bike is a short loop, followed by a long loop and then a repeat of that. I started the bike quite cold on the first loop out to Higgins point along the lake. I knew that soon I’d be hotter than I would ever hope to be so I tried to conserve energy early on, keeping my HR to the low end of my prescribed range. The long climb during the second loop felt fine. I wasn’t getting too warm and there was a breeze but it wasn’t throwing me around too much. My food intake and energy felt decent, though I was struggling with a slightly nauseous stomach. Coming back into transition to begin the second half of the ride I saw that my time was over three hours. My heart sank. I’d hoped my total bike time would be well under six hours, and it seemed like a six-hour-plus bike ride would put me out of contention for a top placing.
During the second loop I slowly raised my heart rate into the mid-140s to try to make up some time, but by then the sun was beating down, the wind had picked up, and the climb was quickly becoming brutal. Around mile 80, time seemed to be at a standstill, and I felt like I was crawling up the endless hot highway. There seemed to be nothing but hot wind in my face, my bent neck aching, and my speed and power slower than I’d ever wanted to see. After what seemed like forever, only a few miles had clicked by, and the turnaround was still miles off. Finally, I reached 85 miles, and then 90, and it felt amazing to turn and fly back down the endless hill and into town. It may not have been my fastest ride, but one of my goals was to minimize my stops, and at least I’d done that, only jumping off twice: once to get a dropped flask and once for a very quick porta potty break. I wished I’d known that everyone’s times would end up relatively slower due to the tough conditions during the second half.
Bike time: 6:06:41
Division place: 4
Transition 2: 3:04
Transition 2 was smooth and uneventful. I put on my shoes and ran off, actually feeling excited to face the next few hours of my day!
The run was three loops from the park out through some neighborhoods, out along the lake and back, and nearly flat the entire course. It was now truly hot, probably 90 degrees. My plan was to keep my pace slow and controlled for the first 10 minutes, hydrate as much as possible and keep myself as cool as possible. My stomach hadn’t felt good since the middle of the bike ride and it wasn’t getting better, but it also wasn’t getting worse.
The first lap was manageable. Not comfortable, but endurable. I LOVED seeing my support team, coach and other teammates on and off the course. I drank water at every aid station, had the volunteers pour water over my shoulders, and carried ice in my palms as much as I could. There was a nice breeze coming off the lake, so that, combined with my wet clothing and use of ice made the heat bearable. I throughly enjoyed the spectators through the “hot corner” at the park, and gained energy each time I passed them. Always keeping wet and cool, I moved along at a steady pace. I took in calories every 30 minutes no matter what my stomach felt like, and I kept drinking water. Somewhere around the middle of the run Red Bull started to sound really good, so I grabbed a half-filled cup of that each time I passed the Red Bull tent. I also used salt every few miles, which tasted good and went down well. During the last part of the run I felt myself slowing. Brian ran alongside me and said I was in either 5th or 6th, but also knew that I’d passed at least one of the women in my group who had started walking. My coach, Ben, and support team helped me with the mental energy necessary to push on. Seeing other Vo2 athletes on course was an amazing boost to my energy.
I knew that I needed to press and not fade during the last hour, so that’s when I put my head down and worked my absolute hardest. My right foot and knee began to feel achy and painful, and my calves began to have sharp pains. I didn’t know if they were cramping or just sore, but I downed more salt just in case. I thought of nothing but putting one foot in front other as quickly as possible.
Near the end of the race, as I was pushing on and knowing that I needed to do everything I could to keep going, the sky suddenly darkened and the lake reflected a orangey-red light. It was surreal and even beautiful; a welcome distraction just when I needed it. Nearby forest fires has caused the reddish light and ash even began to fall from the sky. I could smell the smoke and feel it in my throat.
When there were a just few miles to go, Ben arrived on his bike and began to talk me through the last part of it. He told me that I needed to do everything possible to press the pace if I wanted to place in my age group. I didn’t talk, I just listened, pressed on, didn’t think, and just ran to his encouragement and instructions.
During the last couple of miles, another race “angel” appeared. Ben called out for me to catch a runner a few yards ahead and try to follow him. The runner, an Every Man Jack team member, heard Ben and began to encourage me, too, saying,”You can do it, Robin, match my pace, swing your arms, keep up your cadence.” This athlete talked me all the way back through the park and into the finish chute. I never had a chance to tell him how much his words had helped me in the last mile.
I finished the race in 4th place in my age group, running the marathon with a time of 3:46:25. I bent over, almost collapsing, after the finish line, having given this race everything I could.
Run time: 3:46:25
Total time: 10:57:31
Division place: 4
Overall gender place: 7
I had done my best, but I didn’t know whether it was going to be fast enough for Kona. It didn’t matter at that moment. I was thankful for my day and grateful for all of the help I’d received. The experience of emptying myself of every ounce of energy, being present and mindful throughout the experience, and having my friends, family, coach and teammates there made August 21 a day to never forget!
I knew that the top three finishers in my group would take their slots to Kona. I went to the rolldown ceremony knowing that the only way I’d get a slot is if my group was allocated one more from an age group with no finishers or claimants. An additional allocation seemed to be a small chance, but a chance nonetheless.
I was, of course, busy chatting when an announcement was made that my group was indeed allocated a fourth spot! Had I heard correctly? Unbelievably, I was in! The feeling was overwhelming and indescribable. When my name was called, I made my way to the entry table, received my lei and paid my entry in a blur. In seven weeks, I’d be in Hawaii, doing this all over again at the biggest Ironman race of them all! It seemed unbelievable, and it would take me awhile to let it sink in.
Always, Brian White, who never hesitates to encourage me every step of the way, and my girls, who always express pride and grace with all of my training activities. I love you!!!
Thank you to to my coach, Ben Bigglestone, who knew exactly how to get me prepared for the hills, heat, and a solid run off of the bike. Without his presence and encouragement on the run, my pace wouldn’t have been what it was, and definitely not what it was during the last few miles.
My support team! In addition to Brian and the girls, I had Mom, Dad, Lisa, Melissa, Solveig, Kari, and Uncle Johnny there to cheer for me. The race wouldn’t have been the same without them. Love you all!
My training buddies! Liz, Kristin, Maria, Laura, Lee Ann, and Allison. Thanks for getting me through the long rides, swims and runs throughout the year. I couldn’t have done it with you guys!
Lee Ann and Dana, Leslie, and other friends who volunteered on raceday. You’re awesome! And my team, Vo2 Multisport. I love how we give each other encouragement and support every step of the way.
“The real reason we race is not so much to beat each other, but to be with each other.”
– Christopher McDougall
2 Timothy 1:7
Breakfast: Bagel, Peanut butter, hard boiled egg, banana, and coffee. One gel before starting the swim.
On the bike: About 6-7 bottles of plain water, salt, and 1500 calories of Gu.
On the run: Water every aid station, salt every few miles, and about 600 calories of Gu, plus 6-8 ounces of Red Bull.
I had soreness for two to three days as well as insomnia, but began to sleep longer by the second week. I was able to add some longer bike rides and runs by the end of week two. Three weeks afterward, I competed in the Lake Stevens Sprint and was able to easily push into my Zone 5, though I could tell some of my sharpness wasn’t quite back and I was really sore afterward. Knowing that I had another Ironman to do in a few weeks helped me mentally get back into training and maybe even helped me recover a bit more quickly than last time.