2021 Ironman Couer d’Alene Race Report: 10:18:14. 18/189 M35-39 A/G. 3rd KQ

It was just after 7:00 a.m. Fiona and I were walking up Sherman Ave. heading towards a local bakery ready to meet her teammates of the cupcake cartel. I pointed to an invisible line on the road and said thats where the finish line was last night. People were driving their cars to work in the early hours of this Monday morning in late June 2021 and if you were new to town and had gone past this very spot you may not have understood what transpired the day before. Yes, there were still cones and some signs around, but most of the main tents were down, the roads were not lined with the 1,700 volunteers, nor the 2,100 athletes swimming, biking, and running over 140.6 miles, not to mention thousands of spectators. We may train for weeks, months, or (because of the pandemic) years to race an Ironman. And once it was over it was as if nothing even took place. However, like so many others, I left that place with priceless memories that changes and enhances our lives. I could quantify the amount of hours I trained and the dollars we spent in getting to this race, but, there is no measure to the level of personal satisfaction, achievement, and high that can be gained from doing an Ironman, especially in the return and 16th running of Ironman Couer d’Alene. (It’s french).

The long journey

I had no idea that when I completed the Ironman World Championship (Kona) 2019 it would be 20 months before completing my next Ironman. This was the longest I had gone without competing in one, having now completed 16 ironmans over the last 9 years. In 2020, we were supposed to do Ironman Ireland and Ironman St George; both were canceled. In 2021, Ironman Ireland was again cancelled and St George entry was transferred to Ironman Couer d’Alene. So while triathlons were canceled I upped my run game: I did a virtual marathon on the treadmill on the fly in 3:25 out of Australia called the 42.2K in 42hrs. I did the virtual Wineglass marathon on the treadmill in 3:03 just short of a PB. I finished my 2nd 50K ultra marathon setting a PB by 19min to 4:50 and my 2nd 50 mile ultra setting a PB by 2hr45min to 8:22hrs and coming 4th overall. This all set me up for a level of endurance, fitness, and mental toughness that would get me through the toughest Ironman to ever take place, based off of the DNF rate of nearly 27%. In other words 1 in 4 people did not finish the race. My goals and training for this race were based off of what I wanted to do and expected and believed I could do; around a 9hr 30min race. I swam 56min twice in my training, knew that I was able to hold 270watts for at least 4 hours and was training to run a sub 3:25 marathon. With this time goal, I wanted to be on the podium in the top 5 and with that I hoped for one of the original 40 spots for Kona. With more races canceled around the world Kona slots were allocated to CDA increasing to 150 spots. And with Ironman Ireland canceled my goal now truly was to get to Kona. I was telling family, friends, colleagues the goal was Kona and realistically, all I really needed to do was have a good race to get one of the roughly 14 spots, but respect is always due to an Ironman.

Weeks before the race at Ironman Cairns, athletes were told they could take a Kona spot but they most likely would not be able to go because Australia was shut down to International travel. Hopes and dreams faded for those athletes on that day but it also faded for those in Australia who couldn’t even get to the race in their own country due to lockdowns within the state of Victoria. As a result, the day before our race I learned that Kona slot allocation had increased to 200 spots; 10% of the field… its normally 2%. But, there are no guarantees in triathlon racing. In order to earn my spot, I would still need to continue to perform to the highest of my abilities, leveraging the mental strength, and fortitude I gained over the last 20 months from ultra marathon training and racing.

Carbo loading

Once again, we carbolooaded for 2 days using the research and guidance of Sean Foster of the Melbourne Tri Club in Australia and The Australian Institute of Sport. I drank many liters of sprite, lots of rice crispy treats, and candy. We had lots of bread in the days before the race. We used the $25 food voucher to get two pizzas from Vicino Pizza around 3 o’clock the day before, and for dinner was a new experiment inspired by Lionel Sanders: 2 cups of Ramen noodles which gave me 100% daily value of salt: more than 2 Grams. And tradition called for Sparkling wine. Target was around 4,000 calories per day. Plug to the 99% Podcast, look it up, great job by Arizona based Pro Triathletes.

Race day, June 27, 2021

3:00 a.m. wake up for a 5:30 a.m. start I had 4 pieces of toast with butter and jam, a medium red bull, and banana ~800 calories. We drove 5 minutes from the Blackwell RV resort and parked one minute away from transition at the ballpark. We went to our bikes and it was there that I saw my friend Elliot Kawaoka who is in my M35-39 A/G. Tires pumped up to a 110 PSI, 1 bottle of water in the torpedo cage one bottle of Gatorade on the down tube, 4 packs of clif shot bloks in the bento Box. 3 Tubes and CO2s all ready in the large Argon18 E119 Tri+ lunchbox. Wahoo Bolt on and my transition was laid out on my Kona towel with my brand new Rudy project aero helmet and visor, and my regular glasses. I decided to use these because my brand new Rudy project polarized sunglasses were not working well with the polarized Visor. I had my bike cleats attached in the pedals with rubber bands holding them parallel to the ground I had an Immodium open and ready to go on my run shoes, one in the bento box, on top of the 2 I had with breakfast. I also had my Hansons Brooks running singlet with bib attached. I no longer use a race belt nor tri top nor one piece since I always hit the loo. I don’t carry any nutrition either; I only rely on Coke and red bull at the aid stations. I also had my TTL hat on that I was going to use instead of a visor to help protect my head and hold ice during the run. We hit the loo, went over to the swim area. I gave one last kiss to Fiona and wished her best of luck. I lined up in the sub 1 hour area and headed to the water for a warm up in which I took some strokes and bobbed around a little bit in the perfect temperature cool water of around 68゚F. I seated myself into the leftmost lane heading into the water. I saw Mike Riley. I watched the pros come out of the water and enter the 2nd lap of 1.2 miles. And I also saw one up my Instagram friends who I had first met in Kona 2016 who has done 177 Ironmans, is an absolute legend, and is a dealer of Scotch who has also climbed mount Everest, Luis Alvarez. (he makes it into like every Ironman Raceday video on YouTube).

The 2.4mile swim 1:03:11. Lap1: 30:59 29th A/G Lap2: 32:12 27th A/G

They were sending off 4 athletes every 5 seconds and it seemed like I was getting past frequently for the 1st 500m. I felt a little bit flat and I didn’t go very fast. I felt like I wasn’t able to really push hard. I held a pretty good line sticking quite close to the buoys the entire time. Yes, there was some contact after all it is an Ironman swim. The Sun was bright to our left but I was able to see on both sides I was a little bit slow coming out of the water entering lap 2, but I continued on trying to be even, trying to get good extension, trying to keep elbows high, trying to stay focused, and on the 2nd half worked on kicking just a little bit more. At times I looked at my watch to see my pace and I knew early I would be over an hour. As I emerged from the water seeing 1:03 on my watch I wasn’t necessarily discouraged, I was confused I didn’t understand why I performed so poorly. After all, I was at least a good 5 minutes slower than what I expected. The water wasn’t choppy, it was fine. I went 59 in Arizona and I went 1:03 at Kona twice (8sec faster in 2019 than CDA) in a swim skin so I know that I’m capable of way more and would attribute my poor swim performance to backing off my quality swimming over the last month, having my last long swim be 2 weeks out, and not swimming for 7 days during the RV 1,500mile road trip from Tucson. I have good sustainability and swim endurance so I was able to pick off 2 on Lap2.

Transition 3:29

I ran a little bit, I walked a little bit, I took off my watch and held it with my teeth as I took off my wet suit while also peeing myself. On my bike helmet, on glasses, on visor and go. I ran along the cement which was painful on the feet got to the mount line and took off.

The 112 mile bike: 5:14:04, 21.4mph, Max 43.3mph, 4,300calories burned, 4,900′ climb, 278TSS 73%IF, 122HR avg, 224avg watts (include zeros), 246NP, 10% VI, 81 cadence (exclude zeros). Min Temp 70, Avg Temp 88F, Max Temp 106F.

As with any Ironman bike, you start and the watts feel effortless but I knew what I wanted to dial in to (260-270watts) and when I saw 409 watts at 1min in, I told myself bring this down to my target, just get there. I passed a fair bit amount of people over the first half. In my AG alone, I moved up from 27th to 23rd in the first 7miles, to 22nd by 14miles, to 16th by 35 miles, and 15th by 63miles but wouldn’t make any more progress. There is one small Hill in the first section that took me 2:26 at 305watts. Once I got onto route 95 I really started to find my rhythm and when I hit the 1st real climb I thought “Volcano KOM” this is the Hill that we trained specifically for all season long. I knew the Hill was 2 miles long, I knew it would take 8 to 10 minutes, and I knew that Volcano KOM on Zwift was the closest replicating route that we could train on. We did this every Wednesday 4 to 7 times over 90 minute and 2 hour sessions usually at Sweet Spot 305watts or Threshold for Fiona. It paid off and the 4 times doing this effort over the next 4hours I held 297watts for 9:12, 285watts for 9:13, 267watts for 10:06, and 273watts for 9:11. I took 10 salt tablets on the bike: 2 every hour and in the final hour, 4. I was eating every 20 minutes 100 calories or 3 clif shot blocks, I was drinking a fair amount of water and Gatorade and spraying water through the vent on to my head on my arms my back and my legs. It really cooled me down and I honestly do not remember feeling at all that hot. I peed multiple times. I don’t believe I looked back much during the 1st 35miles to the turn on Rt95 but when I got there I saw this guy and he was close on my heels and he never passed me so I kept looking back at the guy for the rest of the race and he was perfectly situated just outside the draft zone. I wanted to drop him but he was hanging in there pretty good so I just let him stay there 6 bike lengths back, I also didnt have the power to make a move. He never seemed to want to pull but he just continued to sit right back. I saw Sam long and Lionel Sanders in the front pack on lap one. On the 2nd lap I saw Sam long leading in the descent in the no pass area and then saw Lionel Sanders holding back unable to pass the slower athletes in front of him in the same section. This is arguably the worse element of Ironman Couer d’Alene. On my 1st lap I descended this section with my head on the torpedo bottle as low as can be cruising to 43 mph on this descent but on the 2nd loop I was sitting up on the heels of 3-5 riders who were holding the brakes and was 8MPH slower only tapping out at 36MPH. My heart rate dropped to 79BPM lol. On this final Hill I looked back and I did not see who I had now believed to be Elliott I didn’t see him and I thought I dropped him but then on the decent and all the stated traffic, I looked back and there he was. I got to the dismount line running off the bike onto that quite painful cement leaving my cleats in the pedals. At the rack I told Elliot “I knew that was you!”, he said he owed me a beer for pacing him. I thought to myself “I wasn’t pacing anybody, I went as hard as I could”.

There were 2 things that I was very proud of on the bike. 1st was a TSS of 278. I had done 6 rides of 278-300watts in training and it was the level I expected to hit. This is also my highest ever stress score which means that I worked a lot harder in this race than any other race. I also strategically trained for and paced the Volcano KOM and I felt like I nailed that Hill each time even on the last effort at 105゚F. (It was over 100F for the last 90min) This was a big success something that I’m quite proud of. I really wanted to go 5 hours and did feel flat on the day. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of power but after looking online I can see that for excessive heat temperatures you can expect around a 7% reduction in power. By doing the math and discounting my goal target effort of 260 to 270watts, that puts my NP exactly where the temperature would predict power to be. My VI is due to the varied course expected on 5%+ hills. I coasted down leading to 0 W for minutes on end as I was cruising around 35 to 40 miles per hour this brought my over all average power down and is a poor comparison to any other race. I also cannot look at heart rate my heart rate recovers within a minute from 140s to sub 100 So I can’t use heart rate to compare either. I use a 55-23. I can see myself going to a 56ring in the future.

Transition 3:12

Elliott looked a little bit miserable in the face but that guy is an animal. He would go on to take 6th missing the podium by 45 seconds. My legs felt typical “Yuck” is the word I like to describe them. Crowd support was great and I advanced my garmin to the run 2nd Segment.

The 26.2mile run: 3:54:20 (8:57/mile) Including 6min of stoppage time which cost me 3 spots). 119avg HR. 143max HR. Avg temp probably 102F. 700′ of climb

The 1st mile of course as always the best, 7:54. I just continued to plug away, just kept moving forward, never thinking of the total distance, never thinking of how hot it is just focusing just keep moving forward. I looked forward to the aid stations knowing that I was getting more Coke and red bull. The volunteers for absolutely amazing. Sam Long passed me and I gave him some Tucson YoYoYo. The guy on the bike said something like “it looks easy doesn’t it”. I said hello and good job to many of the pro athletes that I knew and am a fan of including big Metz onto his 2nd place, saying No Limits to Lionel Sanders, saying hello to new mom Sarah Piampiano, Giving some good messages to Patrick Brady another pro that I follow.

The course was absolutely stunning right along the Lake. Shade and full Sun in other areas. Passing $5million mansions. The Ironman video shows the pavement on the bike course reading a 136F. Many of the people had sprinklers and hoses which really cooled me down they also had towels which were very good when wiping yourself down. First timers didnt want to get their shoes wet, these people really need a coach, it was 102 friggen degrees. For me the hottest moments were going into the Loo at mile 10, 14 and 18. As I sat there my skin felt like it was absolutely on fire worse than any sauna I’ve ever been. As I would open the door and go back into that 102F temperature, it felt cool. My loo breaks have troubled me for most of my Ironmans but now I belive it is the solid food the day. before. The immodiums just helped the situation. But the race proved to me that the nutrition did work that: I was quite hydrated I never felt any inclination of a cramp coming on thanks to the salt tablets and the hydration but going forward I will eat very little solid food the day before. I peed lots throughout the day.

All I had nutritionwise was Coke and RedBull. I pounded 2 full cans of RedBull during the back half of the run. I ate noyhing, nor took salt tablets. The hardest section was mile 25 where I finally had to walk some sections between aid stations which were on slight inclines and my legs felt like they had nothing. I think this part was a fail. I could have and should have tried to run but lost focus after 10hours of racing.

One thing I remember fromnthe run was throwing 2 cups of ice in my groin and maybe 30sec later touching rhe groin and asking Where did the ice go? It felt like ice was just instantly vaporizing.

Again, the course was amazing. On my 3rd loop a lot of people were walking. And I made that mental note to really enjoy the 3rd lap and know that today I was going to be an Ironman. I made the final turn, up to Sherman have turned the corner for the final 400meters, I got to take it all in once again and hear Mike Rielly call me an Ironman from Sahuarita, Arizona. Just before the finish line, I dropped down and did the Blazeman Roll. I did it knowing that I was most likely going to Kona and what Kona meant to the Blazeman who followed the race and Triathlon for years until one year in 2005 he got ALS Lou Gehrigs but finished Kona (the only athlete ever to do it), year 2 watch Kona from a wheelchair, and year 3 not watch anything from the world of the living.

After, I saw Becca, Elliot’s wife and she showed me in 16th position and told me I was going to Kona but I said, I won’t believe it until I run that credit card.

Fiona

Fionas goal was just to finish this race. It’s been 3 years since she’s done and Ironman, taken out of her last one in 2019 to a sacral stress fracture. She trained decently and put in the required work to complete such an event. I saw her on the bike and then when I first saw her on my 3rd lap of the run she broke down in tears. But, I gave her all the best words and love that I could and then when I saw her next, she was smiling and told me she was proud of me which meant the world to me. After some food, I walked 2 miles out onto the run course and Fiona to cheer her on as well as many of the other athletes. I had to get some fluids from one of the aid stations and stayed out there for the next 3 hours in the 102゚ temperatures. I waited there at the finish in the Sun with 5 minutes before Fiona was finishing and started to get heat stroke/exauhstion. My head was spinning, I had to put my head down. I was starting to break down and slightly worried I would pass out but I had to be there for FiFi. I got a bottle of Gatorade from the VIP Tent and slammed it down and water from a spectator and then got a video of Fiona at the finish running right past me lol. At least she was smiling!

Post race

We went back to the RV took care of the furchildren then got a Burger and fries, headed to the finish, and cheered in a new friend I made on this journey, Matt Humphreys who completed his 1st Ironman in 16 hour 7 minute. The next morning we met up with the Cupcake Cartel. Then we headed to the breakfast, the award ceremony, chatted with 3rd place finisher Linsey Corbin and her husband and their dog. I met Carlos another friend made on this journey who also qualified for Kona and was 24th in my division. When Mike Rielly called my name I stood up and screamed “Kona baby!!!” He told me to make sure I do that in the finishing chute on a Alii Drive in October

Final thoughts

None of my time goals for my race were met but you have to look at the totality of the event. This race was run in unprecedented temperatures in a heat wave that broke records across 1/3 of the United States. This has an obvious impact; you slow down.18th in my division is one of my worst placements outside of Kona, while also having a very good race. The competition that showed up was massive and it should be obvious why this was only the 2nd Ironman in North America since Covid. I was going against many of the best athletes in the USA.

So, I’m going back to Kona baby. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I really really wanted this But I also wanted to give a 2 week holiday to Fiona in Hawaii. Walking around the maskless Cour d’Alane, one would never have known we were in a worldwide pandemic that had killed 600,000 Americans. My Australian family, friends, and their counteymen sacrificed a lot to save their fellow man, and save they have with only 910 deaths. My 3rd Kona came at the sacrifice of many others who died and became sick from Covid-19. My promise in the training for Kona will be to continue to give my all and never take my health for granted.

We only get one shot at life, make it count.

5 responses to “2021 Ironman Couer d’Alene Race Report: 10:18:14. 18/189 M35-39 A/G. 3rd KQ

  1. I’m thrilled for you too!!! All your dreams are becoming a reality!! Your strength and determination make us proud!

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  2. Great race report and congrats on KQ. Not eating solids the day before a race solved the loo problem for me, together with the imodium. I eat non-dairy ice cream all day to take in enough calories and it works for me. Good luck figuring out what works for you!

    Liked by 1 person

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