Tuesday, July 04, 2006


As promised, and if anyone is still interested, here is my spectator report of IMCDA. There have been so many other things to write about, but I want to get this done and out of the way for those still waiting.

After a three day drive, 1896 miles, and 28 hours later, we arrived in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, for the 2006 Ironman race. With my "expert" planning, we actually arrived an hour earlier than planned. (Actually, we changed time zones for the third time which I wasn't aware of, putting us an hour ahead of schedule.)

My partner Don had signed up to do this race along with 12 other of his local friends and training partners, along with Shelley and with the driving and distance, I decided to make it a 2 week vacation. (Blog journals on this being worked on and will be posted later.)

Fast forward to the Gatorade swim the next day. We were told the water was freezing, so we were all a little apprehensive over that. I was glad to participate and had brought my new wetsuit just for the occasion. When we arrived at the park (name escapes me, but it is a beautiful location), a few of our group had already finished and were standing shivering on the beach. Everyone recommended bomber hats. Tom, one of the guys, pretty much had gotten in and back out. He hates cold water more than anyone I know.

Lake Coeur D'Alene is a beautiful inland lake, can't remember how big, but quite impressive. Don dove in immediately leaving me to fend for myself. I waded in a short distance and found the water getting deep immediately. I didn't really feel any of the cold until it hit the armpits and then yeow! Stinging cold. Yikes. Could I actually do this?? I finally was deep enough to take the plunge and put my face in and started swimming. Gasp, gasp, gasp. Takes the breath away! Swim to first buouy, stop, catch breath, swim to next, catch breath, and then, whatever. Not that bad. Swam a total of 16 min. that day and really might have gone farther had I knew where I was. Found Kim, Rich, Shelley, Libby, Pat, Ruthie and George. Kim was shivering still fully dressed with a fleece hat on as well. Her fingers were quite discolored as she has Raynaud's syndrome. Rich was pretty much shaking uncontrollably (he has 5% body fat, no wonder!). They all survived but weren't particularly looking forward to that part of the race.

Second day, another swim. The water felt maybe 2 degrees warmer! Reminded me of Lake Michigan, waves, current, cold, and all. Swam a little longer this time but got totally disoriented and ended up totally off course. Everyone was feeling a little more confident with the swim and water temperature, and Rich bought a new wetsuit (Blue Seventy) that actually fit so he was quite relieved.

This was also the day for bringing bikes to transition, so everyone was busy with that task and all it entails. That and trying to relax, get organized, stay calm, and get a good night's sleep (that in itself is an oxymoron).

RACE DAY: Up at 4:15, out the door by 4:45. Everyone making their silent way to their cars. Nicely and surprisingly, it was light out already. The other IM races I have attended have all been dark upon arrival at the race start so this was very appreciated. At the park, the music was blaring, instructions were being given by race officials, but everyone was pretty much quiet and wrapped up in their own thoughts and feelings, going about their business of getting things ready for the big dance that day. The people watching is always educational, in more ways than one. Everyone has a routine or is trying to establish one anyway. Tires have to be pumped, bottles filled, bodies need marking, bathroom needs to be visited, etc. I just watched and waited. I couldn't help wonder if I had seen some of these people at other races, and finally decided everyone really looks a lot alike! But at the same time, you could see all the different types of people who had the courage to attempt an Ironman--young, old, dads, moms, sons, daughters, white, black, Asian, Hispanic--a melting pot; people of all ages, races, backgrounds attempting to accomplish the same goal that day.

Swim: The pro women were competing that day for prize money, and their swim was about to start. I found myself with the wife of one of the guys and realized we were in a very advantageous spot for viewing, right at the swim finish and next to the time clock. We were actually standing on a retaining wall and could see the beach location of the swim, although we were probably 1/4 mile away. Still, even at that distance, it was possible to see the swim masses.

The pro women started 35 min. ahead of the rest of the pack, and by 7 am, most were half way through their second loop. It was amazing seeing them churn through the water, with two of them way out front from groups of three distinct packs and then the stragglers after that.

The swim started and it was amazing to see! Something very hard to describe, 2200+ swim caps churning through the water. Being a two loop swim, as is fairly typical, Lecia, one of the Ironcrew women from our group, also resident photographer of all events, decided she didn't want to stand at the swim finish, she wanted to be down on the beach to get them after their first loop. After being trampled and my vision blocked most of the time at IMFL 2 years ago, I was content to stay on my perch near the finish chute.

As is turned out, we saw every one of the people from our group except Rich, so I felt I had a great spot. Mike (11:20), who swam a 1:06, came out first, as expected. Later he would say that he lost his goggles on the second loop and what the heck, just swam without them--"I could actually see better!" According to all, it was a brutal swim. Having an idea of what everyone's swim time would be, it was easy to watch for them. There were a few surprises of course, with some faster and others slower than expected, but we waited until the last person from our group came through. That was Pat (15:42), doing her first IM, age 56. She was the most apprehensive about the swim, but still managed to finish in 1:50.

Bike: By the time Pat finished, I pretty much lost my chance to see anyone coming out of transition, and missed most of them finishing their first loop on the bike. I had planned to watch them all go through their first loop and then go for a run, but already at this point in the morning it was heating up fast and furious. We had heard the temps were going to be in the high 80s, and I suspected already it was nearing the high 70s. So I was pretty amazed at the numbers of swim stragglers (last one out of the water had 12 seconds to spare!)just heading out on the bike wearing jackets, long sleeves, one even fleece! (leopard print at that!) Oooh, they were going to cook later. I know they were cold from the swim, but you really do have to think of later in the day. This wasn't a sprint race after all.

Knowing the bike would be a long part of the day, I had time to go run, shower, shop, and eat before heading back to watch the finish. Parking was at a premium, so by the time I actually found another parking spot and made my way to a portion of the final bike leg, I was facing catching only the "B" group (those biking 6 hours or longer). Little did I realize then how many of them fell into that group. Mike, Rich, Tom, Dan, and Shelley had finished by then. We were still waiting for Don, Libby, Bruce, Melissa, Ruthie, Kim, Pat, and George in that order. I had my walkie-talkie and contacted Lecia, since she was still taking pictures. Nancy and I were supposed to be spotters, but I was less than enthused about chasing all over in the heat, so I picked a shady spot on the corner of the last turn into the finish and radioed ahead when I spotted someone.

I couldn't help but think about the time factor, with it approaching the 7th hour now and still the last of the group were not coming in. The 7th hour came and went and still no one. I was a little alarmed by this and started wondering if I had totally missed them. But according to Lecia, who was planted at the finish, no way had they finished. So we waited and waited. Finally! Here comes Bruce, then Don, then Melissa, then Kim. At this point, I wanted to check with Don and see what was going on and be sure he was okay. I had to make my way toward the finish, cutting across the course, so had to wait from time to time for bikers. Everyone looked strong even in the inferno the day was turning into. My last check had said 95! So by the time I got to transition and the beginning of the run, I had missed Don. I was told Libby had come and gone. Okay, we did miss her. Later we would find out Libby actually had DNFd due to severe cramps on the bike. When she stopped because she couldn't pedal any more, she actually passed out. So some of the group had actually seen her at the ambulance and knew what was going on, but we spectators didn't have a clue until later. Libby is an excellent triathlete, having done probably 10 IM distance races, and the bike is her strong suit, but today wasn't her day. She felt terrible for not finishing, but after the magic elixir of an IV felt good enough to spend the rest of the day cheering on others in the race.

Run: If that's what they called it, I'm okay with that. With the heat, so many people were walking. If they started out running the first loop (an out and back of 2 miles), they weren't soon after. I finally got a glimpse of Don, and he was actually moving, so I assumed he was okay. I parked my chair again in the shade and waited for the others to pass. The whole plan of catching people on the bike and run was thrown out the window because of the heat. People were just not functioning at their usual potential, including the pros. While most of them had actually finished by this time of the day, there were those too who had DNFd. Finishing times were slower. It was all to be expected. I waited quite a while expecting to see Kim and Pat at least, but figured finally I must have missed them and needed to move my car closer to the finish area than the 2 miles away I was. There was no way I wanted to do that later in the dark.

I had to wait for the bike course to close at 5:30 so I could move my car across from the park, and sad to say there were still people coming in who didn't appear to have a clue their day was done. Five thirty is the cutoff, and I was really surprised at the numbers still out there.

This really should have been close to the time Mike said he was going to finish, so I made contact with Lecia and Nancy again and they said they saw him earlier and he wasn't going to make his goal but was still moving. They had seen Shelley, Don, Melissa, and Kim but didn't make it clear what order anyone was in or where they were. I said I was heading toward the finish and would see them later. About this time, I ran into Shelley! I was really glad to see someone and get the scoop, and was surprised to find out what the order of the athletes was, from her perspective. Shelley was tired and hot, but really looked good. She told me Kim and Don were behind her. No way! Yup, and they were walking. No surprise there. But then she told me about Libby. I was heartbroken for her and hoped I would see her at some point. So Shelley went on her way and I was again trying to figure out where to go.

The way the course is laid out, it is very spectator friendly, but not being familiar with it (my mistake), I did not know the mile marker I was at or where the rest of the course went. I still figured I would see Don and Kim at least or maybe Melissa or Bruce, but I had no idea. I did finally see Bruce, but I figured lately I didn't wait long enough for the rest. Bruce was walking, didn't even acknowledge me, and was totally focused on himself. I radioed this to Nancy and then headed on.

I finally decided to walk closer to the finish, again figuring I would hear Mike's name called and maybe Rich, since by now it was approaching the 11th hour. But the finish line was a big madhouse, and I didn't want to sit on the bleachers for who knew how long, so I picked a corner nearby, got comfortable, and sat in my chair waiting.

Eventually Nancy walked by on her way to her hotel, which was on the race course, I think at mile 17.5 of the race and also a half mile from the finish. The use of her bathroom was welcome at that point, and it seemed a perfect vantage point for watching. She mentioned she had seen Don and he was 10 minutes behind Bruce (her husband) so if I hurried and used the bathroom I might be able to catch him as he went by. Man, was she right! I no sooner got back on the street and here he finally came. Running! So that was good, right? He went by and I chased after him a minute--"can't keep anything down; can only sip water; cramped on the bike." So that pretty much told it all. Again, with only a guess on how much farther he had to go, I prepared myself for a long wait.

Eventually Libby came by and told her story. Then Rich and Mike. Even though the sun was going down and it was cooling off nicely (the advantage of people in a mountain state--hot days, cool nights, none of that cloying humidity we get here), both Mike and Rich said they were still really hot. That was surprising to hear from Rich, who always is cold it seems. Mike had nylon pants on, so it was no wonder, but then I realized he had worn the same clothes he had on in the morning upon arrival--hadn't gone back to the hotel or anything. And here he was, out standing on the race course, cheering others on, telling them they looked good, etc. hours after his own tough finish.

Both had their war stories to tell, which is always great listening, but too they were concerned about their buddies, knowing what they had gone through themselves. Rich humorously told about seeing Tom (his rival) out there on the turnaround and started figuring if he did "14:45 minute miles" (walking) he could still beat him. So even Rich and Mike, the toughest and fastest of the group, were reduced to walking, at least at times. Mike said he was running so slow he wasn't sure if he was running. He got passed by dozens, instead of doing the passing himself.

Tom (about 13:45) finally passed by on his way to the finish. He just ran by, not even glancing our way, but saying he wasn't sure he really was an Ironman that day. It was getting dark now, and the street lights were not coming on. Businesses in the area were also closing, like the only eating place around, offering Huckleberry shakes. I wonder how many of those finishing wanted something like that after their race??

Before I knew it, here came Shelley and Dan! Walking together, keeping each other going. They stopped long enough to pose and on they trudged. And amazingly, there were still people making the turn onto whatever street we were on, heading out for their final loop of the run. Most were walking, but a lot were attempting to run just to be sure they made the 17 hour cutoff. George had shown up here shortly before this explaining his DNF, but for George that is almost expected. He only does the races because of his wife, and gladly will stop the race at any point he can, looking for any excuse he can. He said he didn't train, as is usual too. His main concern at this point was getting one of those Huckleberry shakes while waiting for his wife Ruthie to finish and before the restaurant closed!

Again, not knowing when anyone would finish now, we just watched and waited. I was concerned about Shelley having someone to help her at the finish, but hoped Lecia or Libby would get her taken care of, since I was in a situation not knowing when Don would finish and not wanting to leave the area until I knew what was going on. I had to get him taken care of too.

Finally Melissa went by, an IM virgin no more! She looked good. She waved and on she went. Then Bruce, still walking, waving Nancy away as if she was disrupting his cadence or something. He had told her earlier he could do 15 min. miles and still finish in a respectable time, and it appeared he was on that goal still. So she ran on after him to get to the finish line with him.

Then Kim! OMG. She was still moving and was beating Don. Ohh, he wouldn't be happy with himself. But I also figured, he would be happy to be getting done at all. And sure enough, a few minutes later, he came plodding by, looking a little crazed but determined. I quickly gathered up my chair, bag, and whatever to head down to the finish and pretty much bumped into Shelley! I think she was pretty happy to see someone from the group and I assured her I would get her taken care of as soon as I made contact with Don. I just wanted him to be sure I was there so we didn't wander around looking for each other. Shelley was exhausted by now, and was very stiff and slow moving. She did have someone helping with her bike, so I grabbed a bag and headed down the hill toward the finish. I know I was moving way too fast for her, but I was afraid I would miss Don and we would have a fiasco trying to find each other. I don't remember a finish line being this much of a mess before. Maybe it was the numbers that day, maybe it was the setup, I don't know. Of course I couldn't find him. I got Shelley to sit down on my chair and wait while I chased around looking for him, figuring he would be in the med tent or something. Nothing. Not eating pizza, I already knew that. Where?? Not at his bike. Okay, get Shelley taken care of and hope to see him somewhere, as by now she was really miserable. Got her to the car, loaded up the bike, and then dashed back into the night looking for Don. Relief. He already had his bike and stuff and was just sitting there with Pat! She had finished right after him and they were sharing their stories. Naturally I couldn't get Pat's bike, etc. because the rack only held 2 bikes, but I promised to come back after I got them taken care of. Both Don and Shelley were ready to get to the hotel, so got back there and helped unload all the stuff! So much you can't believe. Three bags full.

By the time I got back to the race site, Pat had been picked up so I went back to the hotel and crashed!

All in all, only 2 DNFs in our group, two new Ironwomen, and everyone else successfully, if not slower than usual, finished. There were a few questioning future race possibilities, but only time will tell there. Regardless of how anyone felt about their races, they all can be proud of their finishes and the fact that they actually towed the line in the first place.

For me, the heat of the day pretty much distracted totally from the pro racers. I didn't know until hearing from Mike and Rich that night who had even won or what the times were. It wasn't my suffering but my concern for the others that kept my mind off the pros. They all suffered the same, but really, the race wasn't about them in my book. It was about all those people who would be out there 15+ hours, long after the pros were showered, fed, and comfortable for the night. Its always amazing to see those coming in at the last minute to know they did it and beat the clock too, no matter what they had to do to get there.

1 comment:

Fe-lady said...

Thanks for the great race report...what was Don's final time? Tell him congratulations for me...I REALLY want to do this race someday. Hopefully by then the lake will be warmed up! :-)
My quip about the "old grannies" was tongue in cheek- as Wil had made a reference to being ahead of some "old grannies" at an Olympic race- actually most of the 50 and up crowd beat her. So Nancy Toby and I have had some fun with how "slow" grannies are...but actually damn fast most of the time!