Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Race Report

So here we are, my first DNF at an Ironman event.

I've had a lot of people asking and messaging, and the short story is that I'm okay, I'm not seriously injured, and I'll be back to fight another day.

So, what happened ...


Without boring you with too many details, I was able to enjoy several days before the race with some of my best friends staying far away from the race site.  We drank coffee, we swam, we read books - it was great.

Race morning went as smooth as ever.  Bags were packed for speedy transitions, bike looked mean, all things were good in the world.

The Swim

We weren't really able to get a warmup in before the swim (I took a few strokes swimming parallel to shore), and as always, the gun just went off at 7 am (really Race Director, a countdown would be nice).

A sea of yellow caps, and some pink ones!

After a couple hundred meters of swimming around and over bobbing athletes (in those first few minutes, don't ever, ever stop!) I found myself swimming rather okay.  I'd been getting in the open water as much as I could in June, and I was excited to see whether a winter of consistent swimming would make any difference in my time.

And we're off!

As I got out at the end of the first lap, I heard the announcer saying "32 minutes, 32 minutes."  WHAT!?!  Even if he was saying 32 minutes and 59 seconds, I had just taken, like, 4 minutes off of my standard half iron swim time.

Back in for the second loop!  The wind had picked up and the water was a bit choppy, but really nothing like it had been in Coeur d'Alene in 2009 (or last Monday when Rachel, Cam, Erin and I hit up Kits Beach) so I knew I'd be fine if I could just keep my cool.  First swim in a long time where I haven't let slapping hands and breaststroking around buoys get me frustrated.

Final time: 1:07:20 - win!


The other benefit to swimming faster is that there were slightly fewer people in my way as I raced through transition.  Had a bit of problems with my shoes, and couldn't get my arm warmers on, but other than that things went smoothly.

I saw the clock reading 1:10:something as I left, and the official T1 time is 3:28.

The Bike

Biked fairly well heading out of town.  I had come down in May to scout out the new bike course, and thought that race day would go pretty fast (especially compared to the old course, which had cyclists stopping and walking up some of the hills).

Heading out on the bike course

As Meredith Kessler mentioned in her victory speech, "the new bike course definitely didn't disappoint in the hard department."

Hills, headwinds, and me probably working too hard on the first loop of the course made for a very tough second lap.  I wasn't eating or drinking too well, and just couldn't find any strength to cycle up the hills.  I remember coming back to town after the first bike loop thinking "okay, special needs coming up just on the other side."  I had planted an argyle bottle in my Special Needs (for extra awesomeness), but I kept looking down at the barely half-empty bottle on my frame - a bottle which should have only had a slurp or two left in it.  Next race, I definitely need to freeze the bottles regardless of the weather, and start experimenting with fewer calories in each bottle.

Staying aero, but didn't feel so fast

As I biked down the I-95 for a second time, it became apparent that I wasn't going to meet my "dismount bike at 1:25 pm" goal (I set time-of-day goals for Ironman, as the race always starts right at 7 am).  And it frustrated me, when it shouldn't have.

New disc, new 808, new aerohelmet

From my personal race report (the one you don't get to see):
"I think I lost sight of my first rule of racing: focus on the process, and results will follow.  There was something on the bike ride that irked me - I was struggling with my speed, and I wasn't going to make my 1:25 pm dismount goal, and I was disappointed in myself.  Rather than re-evaluating my goal, or even racing my own race, I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn't keep pace with those around me on the bike."

Lesson learned - shit happens, courses are different, learn to adjust.


It won't stand, as I didn't finish the race, but with a T2 of 54 seconds, once again I had the fastest transition in the race.

The Run

So, here was the race plan heading into Coeur d'Alene: "win, or end up in a ditch." 

By 'winning' I really meant "fight on the run and chase down as many of your competitors as you can." 

Ending up in a ditch was either a knock at the fact that my disc wheel/808 combo would be too much to handle on the bike, or I would fight so spectacularly that I'd implode, which I guess is what happened.  Either way, I wasn't really looking for another Ironman finisher's medal, and at my previous 4 IM races I had always set new personal bests.  Somewhere I knew that this streak couldn't last forever.

Step by Step

It may have only been for 15km, but this is the first Ironman marathon where I was able to run at the pace I know I can do.  I had set my watch to Autolap at 5 km (hadn't trained enough in "miles" to really know my splits).  The goal was to run 22:30 per 5 km.  I achieved that, and it felt easy!

Out on the run, time to fight!

After a not-so-stellar bike ride, it felt so good to come out of transition and, within the first mile, have the fatigue wash away, and to just be running.  The plan was to "steamroll" the race, and build my pace as I went along.  I had fully expected to have the first 5 km be 28 to 30 minutes, and then I'd fight to accelerate from there, but no, I was running what I wanted to right out of the gate.

I was running strong and eating well.  Heart rate was under control, and I was "Counting to 100" like a champion.  Running back towards town, I also had the chance to cheer on and be cheered by lots of Vancouver friends who were racing - a definite advantage to an out-and-back course!

Then I stopped.  Just like that.

All spring I've been having problems with my Achilles (both left and right).  I had been getting it treated, and for about 10 days hadn't had a problem.  A little after 15 kilometers into the run, though, I felt a bit of a tweak in my left side.  Not debilitating, but immediately I felt the fuel tank empty.  Like, gone.

I was near an aid station, so I grabbed as much fuel as I could, then tried running again.  Nothing.  No speed, no strength.

And, of course, I was now being past by all the runners that I had worked so hard for the past hour to catch - I really didn't want to have to do it again.  So as I walked along the highway, and took off my race belt and HR monitor (they can chafe during a race, so are the first to get adjusted whenever I start suffering on the run).  I hadn't had the bike split that I wanted, I really didn't want to walk another 25 kilometers, and I knew that my judgement to run through the pain in my Achilles was probably circumspect.  So, when a volunteer asked me "are you done?" it didn't long for me to say yes (in fact, I'm a little surprised at how quick it all happened).

The Aftermath

I had seen Bjoern spectating on the run out, and figured that he hadn't moved too much, so if I could walk back towards town he would probably have his phone, and I could call Elizabeth and assure her that I wasn't dead (she has said on numerous occasions that when I'm out of sight or behind schedule, she starts thinking the worst in pretty short order.

I passed my a volunteer or spectator (can't remember which) who told me "good job."  "Not today" I said, "I'm out."  Well, she would have none of it.  "Nope, you swam and you biked, and you made it this far, so you are an Ironman."  That definitely helped.

I saw Rachel and Stephanie heading out on their second loop, successfully phoned Elizabeth, then got a ride back towards town on the back of a gator.  Then I spent the rest of the afternoon cheering on athletes as they finished their first loop, or started heading out for their second.

The highlight from the rest of the afternoon:

It's good to know that people think I'm invincible, and apparently the fastest runner alive.  3 or 4 of my fellow racers, before finishing their first lap, when they saw me sitting on the side of the road, said something to the effect of "you bastard, you're already done?"  Yes, even though you saw me only 45 minutes ago out on the run, I managed to run so fast as to lap you, finish the race ahead of any other age grouper, AND come back on the race course to cheer you on.  Take that Tom Evans!

Or, I guess it just goes to show that, halfway through the Ironman marathon, you really can't think or do simple math.

And watching Rachel, Stephanie, Tristan, Geoff, Lawrence, Susie, LE Cam, Chris, Steph, Commander Cam, Diane, and everyone else out of the road was pretty fantastic.  Well done out there!

Thank you

If you've read this far into my blog, it probably means that you're a fellow athlete, a supporter, a friend.  Thank you - for all the words of encouragement leading up to race day, for following me on race day, and for caring enough to wonder what happened when my run splits weren't showing up on Ironmanlive.

I don't think that Ironman ever gets easy, but at the end of the day it will still be there (Coeur d'Alene, in fact, will be there for at least another 5 years!).  I don't know what's next, but there will be a next.  And whatever it turns out to be, I'll be fighting.

~ liquid


  1. Happy to hear that you're okay! Tony and I were stalking you on the IM site and got worried when there were no longer any updates. I can certainly sympathize with Elizabeth thinking the worst ;)

    Great race report and great attitude about whatever race is next!

  2. Great race report as always, Doug. Sorry to hear that things didn't work out. Looking forward to seeing you attack the next goal with renewed vigor and fierceness.

  3. i will claim to be one who said "you lil ***'er...are you done already!"....you looked too good to be out. And, you know how to fight with the best of them. sometimes it's about starting...well done Doug!

  4. Way to go down fighting. But smart to pull out and save your Achilles from further harm.