Ironman Couer d'Alene - June 2007
The morning of June 24th, 2007 was crystal clear and calm when I awoke around 4:30 am. It was a perfect day for a race and even though it was early, I was ready to go. This was my first Ironman competition. A triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride, and the a full marathon (26.2 miles) run.
I have been a runner and cyclist for years and felt fairly comfortable with those portions of the race. A year earlier I could barely swim a lap in the pool so the swim was a bit more daunting of a task. Arriving at the Couer d'Alene race site it was in a buzz. There were 2,200 athletes getting there last minute preperations ready. We had clothes to drop off, bikes to get the last preperations ready for and wetsuits to get on. Not to mention all the officials, volunteers and spectators there to encourage us along the way. Jsut being there was a adrenaline rush. Upon arriving at the lake it was not hard to notice that our calm morning had disappeared during the drive. The lake a a brisk wind coming off of it and the water was full of 2 foot swells and white caps. Not your ideal swimming conditions, especially for a novice like me. Nonetheless I got my wetsuit on and proceded down to the beach where the mass start takes place. If you have never seen this spectacle, you should, it is amazing to watch the rush of 2000+ athletes run into the water and begin their swim. For us the conditions were so bad that the race director actually gave us the option of not doing the swim and just doing a duathlon.
Even though some opted out, I did not spend the previous 6 month training and learning to swim to back out now. So down on the sand we went. Standing down on the sand the adrenaline was pulsing through my veins and my heart was beating like the race already began. The gun went off and people started charging into the water everywhere. My strategy was to let some of the faster swimmers to go first to avoid getting beaten and swam over the top of. My swim began better than expected. The main drawback was the waves. I am not a very straight swimmer so I need to sight fairly often. This became a problem, everytime I looked up to see my way I took a wave in the face. Doing this over ad over again started taking its toll, not because of any pain but rather because I felt like I had swallowed half the lake. The first lap went fairly quickly, I looked at the clock and I was at 52 minutes and feeling fairly good. The secong lap was similar to the first, I swallowed the other half of the lake and swam a bit slower getting out of the water at 1 hour and 56 minutes. No worries, I survived. I then proceded up the beach wobbling around trying to find my equilibrium again. Up on the grass I came to the strippers, yes you read that right, they are there to assist you on removing your wetsuit. You lay on your back and they grap your suit around the collar and just pull it off you. You have your race clothes on underneath and after the swim it is much appreciated to have the help. After drying off and getting my bike shoes on it was out to the racks to find my bike. Fortunately with my slow time there was not many bikes left so mine was easy to find. The bike was nice to get on. I felt releived to get to something had had more confort in my ability to do but 112 miles is a task. Not long onto the bike I realized that everything was not good, on the contrary I felt horrible. I had swallowed too much water in the swim and my stomach was bloated and I could not get into my aero position. The bike course is a beutiful two loop course. It has an out and back along Lake Couer d'Alene and then heads through town for a loop of rolling hills north of town. Fortunately for me, the scenery and spectator sport helped alleviate some of the discomfort but this was going to be a long day the way it was going. Uncomfortably and slowly I made my way around the course, I was in such bad shape I would stand up and coast whenever I was going down hill to releive some of the pressure. I came back through town at the halfway point and was a good half hour slower than I should have been based on my training rides. At about mile 60 something happened, I am not sure it was the amount of time or just 60 miles of riding but I finally started feeling like I could start to ride. My stomach pains abated and legs started spinning fast. For the first time in hours I was not hoping my bike would break down and end the misery. I can't say that the last 52 miles were easy, but they definitely were not as uncomfortable or miserable as the first 60. After 112 miles of riding, I came into transition almost 10 hours after beginning the swim. The transition between bike and run is fairly uneventful as compared to the first transition. I found my gear bag and proceded into the tent to get my run gear on. After a couple minutes I was out of the shoot and running down the sidewalk bordering the lake. I felt pretty good and it was a nice afternoon for a run. Only a slight breeze off the lake now and temperatures in the mid 60's. The run course is a two loop course all along the lake. It goes through town twice on each loop and finishes in downtown Couer d'Alene. After the bike, running felt suprisingly good. I even was moving at a decent pace for the first 15 miles before the effort of the day started to catch up with me. My legs started getting heavy and my body started hurting more and more and I began my slow shuffle to the finish. Along with this inevitable slowdown came the night. At times towards the end you would leave the lights of the community and support and be running in almost complete darkness. A lighted neon loop around my neck would be the only light I had and the sound of my feet and thoughts were all that was around to comfort me. By this point though, the race was nearing it's end and I started feeling that I would in fact finish. At mile 25 I started to not feel the agony that my body was in and was being driven with the adrenaline of finishing the race. The last half mile is a slight downhill run through downtown Couer d'Alene with thousands of spectators lining the street. When I rounded the last turn and saw the finish line I started to sprint towards the line the best that I still had in me. I arrived at the finish using up my las tbit of strength and heard the words that I waited for all day. The announcer said "Justin Johnson you are an Ironman!" It took about 15 hours and 19 minutes and was a tremendous struggle, but I made. It was an amazing experience, and it is incredible to think of what you can accomplish. Even those who do not think they can really deep down can make it if they train correctly and put the effort into it. Anyone interested in more information on the Ironman please feel free to contact me. Looking forward to the Boise 70.3 in 2008 and the Disney Goofy Chalenge in 2009. I have also chronicled my Adventures on my site YMMV Reviews