In the moments before you die, they say that your life flashes before your eyes. For me it was a little different. My fingers clamped down on the brake levers in a vice grip, as my bike skidded in a futile attempt to avoid the Mercedes that had just turned directly into my path. In the split seconds before impact I instinctively turned my back towards the windshield, which probably saved my life. The last thought to go through my mind was “this is sure going to ruin my training session”. I lay motionless on the road, struggling for air, unable to move. I tried to wiggle my toes. At first I felt nothing, then slowly but surely movement began to return. The driver was standing next to me shouting “oh my god, I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him!” which to be perfectly honest was not very helpful to me right then. I was reasonably sure that I was still alive, but for a moment I wondered if he was right, that maybe this is what happens when you die. Fortunately he was wrong – after a bumpy trip to the ER I was diagnosed with broken ribs, at the back a few inches away from my spine. Based on the vehicle damage, the paramedics said that I was lucky to be alive. My small backpack packed with work clothes absorbed some of the shock, and probably did a good job of protecting my spine. Someone upstairs was definitely looking after me 🙂
I was hit by the car on May 23rd, a month before Ironman Coeur d’Alene which was on June 24th. I had been The trip back from the hospital was excruciating. Any bump would send a hot knife stabbing through my mid-section. I had no idea how I would be able to race, but I was determined to make it. I trained so hard all through winter, and was just getting back on track after overcoming a case of extreme saddle sores that rendered me unable to do ANY training for 2 weeks. How was I going to train with broken ribs, and would I even be able to race on June 24th???
TSS, CTL, TSB and other fine acronyms
My goal was to qualify for Kona, which meant aiming for a time of around 09:30 at IMCdA. I knew what I had to do in terms of preparation. I’m a trainingpeaks user, and this year coach coady had me really train to the numbers. To be in KQ shape, I would need to peak at around 150 Critical Training Load (CTL) which is based on TSS (Training Stress Score). TSS is a training stress score give to each swim (pace), bike (power) and run (pace + elevation) workout. Your CTL is the average TSS per day over the last 42 days (customizable). This means building up your volume, incorporating rest + recovery in a smart way, and gradually improving over time. I didn’t really have an off season, so I had been training since my last IM race in september 2011 (Challenge Henley). You can see my CTL as the blue line in the graph below. I peaked at 138 CTL just before Oceanside 70.3 – after which things went a bit downhill when an infection put me out of action for a few weeks. I was just getting back on track when I got hit by the car…
With broken ribs, I couldn’t swim run or walk and I didn’t ride my bike outdoors once until IMCdA. I was intent on doing whatever I could to salvage all the hours I’d put into my training over the winter. All I could do was ride on the indoor trainer, keeping as still as possible. This was painful, very painful, but sitting on the bike was actually less painful than lying down on my back. Having been sidelined for 2 weeks following Oceanside, I was grateful to at least be able to do something. So I endured multiple mindless hours on the trainer for the next few weeks. I managed 12-14 hours per week on the trainer, some weekends I did 4 hours each day indoors! I was finally able to swim and run (in pain) during the 10 days before IMCdA. All I could do was run slowly on the treadmill at 11:00 per mile, so I just cranked up the gradient in order to add extra effort.
A few days before IMCdA, I had to make a call as to whether or not I would race. I was pretty nervous about the high contact swim that IMCdA is notorious for, but in the end I decided to go for it. My actual race plan was determined for me – I didn’t have much choice: I would have to avoid all contact during the swim, push it on the bike, and then go at whatever pace I could manage on the run.
We flew up to Spokane on Thursday evening, and stayed at the Davenport hotel (nice place but far). I headed over to the expo on Friday to register, pick up my bike and make sure everything was in working order. We then headed back to Spokane for an early night. I was in bed by 9pm and up early Saturday morning (3:30 am), just like I would be on race day. I drove over to CdA early, went for a swim and short ride before racking my bike. For a change, I was done by lunchtime (instead of the usual 6pm) meaning I had good time to chill out and relax for the rest of the day back in Spokane.
On Saturday I ramped up my carb consumption, avoiding fibre where possible, taking in greek yogurt, non-fat pretzels, white bagels, chocolate milk and plenty of raw oatmeal. I also took in a lot of electrolyte solution (maybe 6 Gu Brew tablets) in order to boost hydration. I prepped all my final race day nutrition, stopped drinking at around 5pm (pee avoidance strategy) and was in bed by 8pm. I got a few hours of sleep before waking up at midnight, 2am, 3am, then getting up at 4am. I kind of expect this type of sleep pattern before race day, which is why I try to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to the race. The good thing about waking up so often is that I continued eating during the night.
I woke up at 4am, ate 2 x white bagels with honey and drank one of those cold starbucks coffee drinks. The taxi picked me up at 4:30 – Michelle and Tyler would drive the rental car through later in the day to support me. I arrived at T1 around 5:15, took my bike to stand in line for the air compressor, and sorted out my bike nutrition while waiting in line. 2 x 5 oz EFS kona mocha shots (400 cals each) in the Shiv Fuelselage, topped up with 10oz water. In the bottle between the bars I had 3 x scoops IM perform + 2 scoops Scivation Xtend (BCAA). 2 x chopped up cliff bars and 3 x gels in the DarkSpeedworks bento box.
Once the tires were pumped, I racked my bike and put on my wetsuit. I also saw that Brian Taylor (we connected on G+ because of IMCdA) was racked near to me so I went to say hi. It’s really great to finally meet online friends in person – he was looking calm and collected – check out his race report… I headed over to the swim start – and had to squeeze through the crowd of athletes to get down to the water. We were not allowed to warm up, so I just submerged myself underwater to get used to the cold. I recommend that you at least do this, otherwise the shock of the cold could cause panic. There will be plenty of other things to make you panic so take care of this and make it one less thing to worry about!
Within a few mins of submerging myself, it was time! I started near to the front, but far to the right in order to avoid being swum over, and to avoid having to swim over others. This meant an extra 200m of swimming but I think it was worth it. There was a lot of jostling and contact, even where I started. This congestion continued for the whole swim, but at least I was swimming at a comfortable pace. At each buoy, things would get crazy again but then settle down a bit. After lap 1, I looked at my watch and it said 35 mins, so I knew I was in for a slower time than expected. I picked up the pace on lap 2, but to no avail as I finished my swim in 1:13… one of my worst times ever.
I took T1 much easier than usual (like 5 mins versus the normal 2). I didn’t want a repeat of my Wildflower “ass seizure” getting onto the bike. We were also not allowed to keep our shoes attached to the pedals, which meant putting them on first. I took off my wetsuit, stuffed it into the bag, put on my helmet, glasses and arm warmers, picked up my shoes and went to retrieve my bike. I ran with my bike to the mounting point, stopped, put on my shoes and then mounted. This felt much more clumsy than being able to do a smooth flying mount onto the bike, but hey the rules are the rules.
My glutes were really tight getting onto the bike, so I purposefully kept my power < 180 watts for the first 10 mins or so, until they eased up. After that I hammered it down to try and make up some time for my bad swim. I capped my watts at 255 but caught myself spiking up to 265/270 at times. I settled down by the time I hit HWY 95, and stuck at around 230-235 watts for the first lap. Nutrition wise, I finished most of the EFS on lap 1, and took in 1 x bottle of IM perform per aid station. This was a little too much and I started to bloat a bit – so I switched to water for a while towards the end of lap 1. I did my first lap in 2:34 (avg power 226 watts), then picked up the pace a bit for lap 2, aiming for a negative split. Things were going well untill I hit the hills on HWY 95 again. The wind had picked up and it was hot. I just sat in the saddle cranking it out at a steady pace into the wind but it was hard work. I had a few guys drafting off me all the way up the first set of hills, but I finally managed to lose them before the turnaround. I ate most of the cliff bar (broken into 1/6ths) during lap 2, plus 2 x gels and the remaining water. I didn’t get my negative split, and came back into town for a 5:15 bike split, at an average of 221 watts.
My T2 was 2 mins, a lot quicker than T1. I just dumped my helmet, put on socks and shoes, some sunscreen + hat and a bottle of flat coke. I then headed off into the unknown – would I be able to run with my broken ribs!!??
I started off at what felt like an easy pace. I saw coach coady on the sidelines, and figured he must have crashed out or something (he was on track to win our age group). I later found out he was hit by a van! He shouted out that I was really high in the field, and that I should keep steady. I went through 2 miles in just over 14 mins, which I thought was a little too fast. I slowed down a bit, with the goal of running the first half easy and then hammering for the final 13 miles. However, after mile 3 I slowed to around 7:50 and settled in there. I had to stop for a toilet break (I’ve never made it through an IM without this happening – I need to figure that out!). I pretty much stuck to that pace as far as possible. The hills before the turnaround slowed me to about 09:30/mile, but I made up a little on the downhills. On the way back I saw Michelle and Tyler on the side of the road, there in full support! Michelle said that I had come off the bike in 10th place. This gave me the energy to keep going and not stop at all till the end of the race. I saw Kevin again as I went through halfway, and he shouted out that the others were not running well. I was hurting a bit at this stage, and just had to push myself through to mile 16. I was chugging down coke where possible (they didn’t have it at every aid stations) and I grabbed Gu gels where possible (they mostly had strawberry/banana flavor which is disgusting, so luckily found a few tables serving vanilla / raspberry / chocolate mint). I kept a steady pace for the next few miles. The ribs were holding up but I just couldn’t speed up. At mile 23 I upped the effort considerably. Michelle shouted that there were 2 guys in my age group 5 mins ahead. However I was still only managing about 7:40 / mile. Nevertheless I pushed as hard as I could to catch them. I put in my best effort and crossed the line in 10 hours 5 minutes. Although this was a personal best time for me, I was disappointed to have not gone under 10 hours. Having said that, I knew that I was not going to be able do a 09:30 with broken ribs, so I felt satisfied that I had at least managed to finish in a decent time.
Even though I missed my goal of Kona qualification, and missed my target time by a long way, I gave my absolute best possible effort on the day and left nothing on the table. In the coming months I would also realize that those endless trainer sessions would provide a step change in my future training capability. So in some sense, there was much good that came from a bad situation.
Some notes on the course
Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful town, nestled on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, about 45 mins east of Spokane, WA. The race has been run for the past 9 years, and will continue to run at least until 2017.
Race Entry: IMCdA seems to sell out within a few weeks of opening (early July). Ironman Foundation slots are usually available right up until the race (at least they were in 2011).
Where to stay: Everything decent in CdA was sold out by the time I booked, so I stayed in Spokane. I’d say this is probably a little far, but very much an option. On race day I took a taxi to the start. It picked me up at 4:30am and I was at T1 by 5:15. However I’d say book early and try to stay in CdA or nearby.
I found it to be a tough course, but not overly tough. The swim is cold and rough, the bike is fairly hilly (but still fast) and the run is flat with 2 hills at the turnaround.
The water is cold, and the swim start can be pretty violent. If you’ve done many mass start tris before, you will be used to the mayhem, however in past races I’ve done, the mayhem usually lets up after the first turn and everyone settles into a rhythm. This race was different; I started all the way to the right since I had broken my ribs several weeks before and wanted to avoid contact. This meant swimming extra distance (I swam 4.1km in total) but I missed the very violent chaos of the middle and left. However there was still a lot of contact, and it continued throughout the race. There were even people swimming over each other as we exited the water! The water is also cold (it was 58F). The cold combined with chaos means there is a high likelihood of panic. There were quite a few waves that had picked up, and I took a few breaths of water during the first 800m. I’m the last person to panic, but I did start to freak out a few times. It took all my strength just to relax, slow down, breathe deeply and recover my composure. My recommendation is that you mentally prepare for this stressful scenario – don’t pretend it’s not going to happen! I swam a 1:13 – my pace was 1:46 / 100m and I swam 4100m (300m over). I was expecting to swim around 1:05 so the swim was slower than planned.
The main change in 2012 was to the bike course. Basically you start in town, do an out and back along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive to the Higgins Point cul de sac, then out and back on highway 95. I found the course to be hilly but relatively fast. The first out and back is pretty quick. Then there is a no pass zone going across the bridge onto the 95, before hitting the rolling course out to the turnaround and back. The way out is a fair amount of steady climbing, and the way back is pretty quick – a few hills but in general quite fast. The wind picked up for the second lap which made things harder on the on the long steady climbs… I also picked up a few parasites that stuck on my rear wheel without taking a turn in the front. Secretly I hope they cramped up on the run 😉
The run course is quite fast, but there are 2 hills at the turnaround which will slow you down a bit. My pace was 1:00 to 1:30 per mile slower going up these hills. On a normal day they would be fine but after 112 miles on the bike they feel pretty tough.
link to race files: