Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2013

Steve Smart-you are an IRONMANNNNN!  After 14 hours 56 minutes and 9 seconds of racing that was my greeting by Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman.  And it sounded great!   

How did I get there?  Well, now it’s time for the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would have said. 

I arrived in Coeur d’Alene the Monday before and went straight to City Park which was race central.  I looked at the lake, a very large lake, and saw something very cool.  A plane land right on the water!  A short distance away there were four huge Ironman trailers as they were beginning to assemble the village. I headed to my motel to check in.  Upon arrival the front desk clerk asked me if I was there to compete.  A quick scan of myself and I wasn’t wearing any race apparel, in fact I was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks T-shirt and shorts.  I thought, wow, do I really look like a triathlete?  I must be hiding my pudge well today.  All that took about a nano-second, and then I responded, “Why yes, I am.” 

On Tuesday I had breakfast at the local Denny’s.  The waitress asked if I was there to do the race.  This time, I gave a clue, as it was a chilly morning and I had my jacket on from the Austin 70.3.  Turns out her husband was going to race, and I got the low-down on the warmer than normal lake! I had been told last year it was about 55 on race day.  After breakfast settled I went back to the lake for a short practice swim.  There are signs up to swim at own risk, no lifeguard on duty.  There is also a swim area defined just off the beach.  So in I go.  The water is chilly, but not cold.  I start to swim and notice a few things.  There is no salty taste to the water, which is weird to me.  It is not cold, but I would use the word crisp to describe the temperature.  And it is clear, I can see the bottom!  That does not happen in Mission Bay.  Swimming out some, and looking down I see a beer bottle.  I guess dirt-ball-scumbag-morons live everywhere.  I also see a few fish which is cool, and notice I am fighting a current, not cool!  I swam for about 20 minutes just to get used to the lake.  Then it was time to get on the bike and ride about 20 miles of the course, the ride took me over Cougar Gulch, a 1.5 mile climb that gains 471 feet per Strava.  Sound like any other climbs you San Diegans know of?  I have named this climb Torrey North!  I finished my workout with a short run.  See coach Vance, you talked about doing mini-tri’s during your taper seminar.  I listened! 

Wednesday I took a longer swim, a half-iron distance swim of 1.2 miles and was happy with how I felt in the water.  The lake is different for me, and I felt slow the day before.  Today I covered the 1.2 miles putting out just less than IM effort, in projected IM time.  This makes for a happy Steve. 

Thursday it poured and was cold all day.  I went down and checked in, wow, that threw a big knot in the stomach.  I now have a blue wrist band, bib, bike numbers, oh and a really cool back-pack.  Nice swag! 
The swag and my bib

Friday and Saturday were mostly waiting, getting nervous.  To try and stay calm, I took short rides both days which helped.  Friday night was a “mandatory” athletes meeting.  Rules, course, and some good motivational videos!  After the ride on Saturday I got the bike numbered, lubed, and wiped down, and took it to transition. 

Virtually everywhere I went people asked if I was racing.  There was a genuine buzz around the entire area about the race.  It looks like most of the locals celebrate the event, which is great since it does put a pinch on getting around. 

Saturday night was game five of the Bruins/Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals.  I am originally from the Chicago area, and am a HUGE Blackhawks fan.  I was good, and disengaged from social media and did not turn the game on.  Went to bed early, and actually feel asleep and slept pretty good. 

3:45 AM the alarm goes off.  3:46 check the computer.  Hawks won!  The day is starting off right! 

Eat and get ready, then head to City Park. 

If you’ve done triathlons, but not an Ironman, you are probably used to setting up transition with your bike, and all your stuff in one spot.  Maybe T1 and T2 are split but you still set your stuff up at your spot by your bike rack. 

This was a single transition, but, we really had three spots.  One was where the bike was racked.  The second was our bike bag where your helmet, cycling shoes and anything else you needed for the bike would be.  It had to be in the provided bag.  Three was a run bag, running shoes, cap, etc, in the provided bag. 

It was time to put the wetsuit on and get into the water for a warm up.  Yes, I said warm up for the swim.  This is always advised, as getting into the water gets you used to the temperature.  No shock and it helps calm the nerves.  Advised, but not always possible.  Big events often do not allow warm up swims.  However, this year, IMCdA was the first event to follow Ironman’s new Swimsmart protocol.  Allowing swim warm-ups and going away from the mass start to a rolling start. 

After a short warm up, I got into the queue for the rolling start.  They had us self-seed by our projected time.  I was estimating an hour and twenty minutes, so I got into the area marked 1:16 to 1:30.  The pros were already off as they started at 6:00, and the first age groupers were going out at 6:35.  The cannon sounded and the speedy Age Groupers were off.  Looking out at the lake feeling the coolness of the 48 degree morning there was a bit of fog hanging just past the turn buoy.  Almost to say, swim too far, and you belong to the fog.  6:43 and I am up, over the timing mat and my day has begun.  I am officially participating in an Ironman.

The rolling start worked well as there was no initial chaos.  There was room to swim and I got into a bit of a groove.  Then around the 500 meter mark, it seemed like the amount of people in the water tripled.  I was taping feet and couldn’t find a spot to get around.  Finally a bit of room, and I was at the turn, about 900 meters out in good time.  The next turn was just 120 meters away, and we headed back to shore.  Another traffic jam.  This time, I got kicked, and elbowed three times.  The last time flipping the lens on my goggle over.  I had to stop, get on my back and fix my goggles!  I noticed when I restarted the swimmer that was next to me swung his elbow way out on his stroke, almost side-arm.  No wonder I got popped by him three times.  I might have given him a pop when I caught back up and went by him for good. 

Hit the shore, and back into the water for the second lap.  This lap, I went a bit wider to have some room, and it was mostly un-eventful.  The fog had lifted and the sun was out, so looking east which was breathing left on the way out was blinding!  The 120 meter across section was right into the sun.  Coming back in, I mostly breathed just to one side to keep my vision and sighting.  I am glad I can breathe out of either side equally well.
Out of the water in 1:20:50. (Nice prediction, eh)? 

Up the sand and head to my bike bag, after getting the bike bag you can go into or just outside of the large changing tent to get ready for the bike.  You put your wetsuit into the bike bag and leave it, and head to your bike, grab it and it’s the best part of the day.  112 miles of cycling! 

The first part of the bike is through town, a whole bunch of turns.  After a couple of miles, and what felt like 79 turns, we are on Lake Drive which runs along the lake heading east.  It is flat and fast until about five miles or so when it pops upward.  Then a descent and it is time to turn-around, so we get to go right back up again.  Right back through town and the 79 turns (I might be exaggerating a bit) and southbound on U.S. 95.  Over the Spokane River and we head south in the northbound lanes.  Ironman’s profile of the bike course showed about 2,300 feet of elevation gain for one loop and it is a two loop course.  I’ll cut to the chase, my Garmin said 5,800 for the full 112, and Training Peaks elevation correction agrees.  Cougar Gulch leads off the climbing, it flattens out, then up, then down, then flat, then up, well you get the picture.  Big cold lake, lots of hills on the bike, very pretty setting with conifers everywhere!  Is this IM Switzerland?   

I felt good on the bike through the first loop and into the second.  The second trip over Cougar Gulch wore on me, and I felt much slower after that.  In the end, though, I came through the bike in 6:48 and change.  I anticipated just under 7 hours, and was hoping for 6:30, so overall, I’ll take it! 

As you roll into T2 a volunteer takes your bike and racks it for you, another one grabs your run bag.  Into the changing area, and I grab a set to put my running shoes on.  A quick trip into the port-a-potty and it’s time to run a marathon. 

The run course was similar to the first part of the bike course, going out about 6.5 miles, and coming back with an additional loop in town, then another out and back.  So that same hill we hit on the bike around mile five, we hit on the run twice!  But the ups and downs of running a marathon are many.  And they are not the story here.  The story of the marathon is Coeur d’Alene.  The people are amazing!  All throughout the course spectators were everywhere.  Through the neighborhoods with music blaring, and a boatload of energy.  This marathon had more rock-n-roll than a rock-n-roll marathon.  Along the lake, folks had the tunes cranked up on their boats.   

When everything hurts, and it takes all you got to go, all that support adds gas to the tank. 

Then you get into the final mile.  People are two, three, and four deep behind the barriers, yelling and cheering.  Lots of cowbells, in fact, I would say there were more cowbells than at an Olympic ski event.  They had to be seven to ten deep at the final 400 meters.  Running in is very emotional.  The thoughts that went through my head; all in a matter of seconds.  From pushing 400 pounds seven and a half years ago to my first century bike ride.  To losing my mom three years ago.  To my wife and her battle with breast cancer last year.  And here I was, this 47 year old adult on-set triathlete running the final half mile of an Ironman high fiving the crowd and to hear what every triathlete should hear at least once.  Mike Reilly boom out their name, as he did mine, and say that YOU are an IRONMAN. 


 Total time 14:56:09

 Swim 1:20:50

 T1 9:18

 Bike 6:46:27

 T2: 5:52

 Run 6:33:42

1,710th place out of approx 2,800

193rd in AG out of approx 244 



    Blue Seventy Fusion wetsuit

    TYR Rx goggles   


    Specialized Transition Comp

    Mid-Compact 52-36 with 11-28 cassette

    Williams 58-85 carbon clinchers

    X-Lab hydration torpedo and rear carrier   


     Saucony Triumph 9 shoes

     Energy from the crowd!

 The after:
I was moved by the amount my social media feeds had "blown up" during the race and how many people stayed up to watch the streaming of me finish.  This was very humbling, and I thank each and everyone of you for your kind words and support. 
Thank you:
To God for giving me the stregth and desire to take this on, and for getting me through.
To my Wife for putting up with my training, my addiction to gear, and my whacky-ness especially after long training days.
To my triathlete friends for your encouragement.  Many of you are also my social media friends mentioned above. 
To my dad for being my dad.
To my mother-in-law for keeping Angi company while I was away.
To my bike mechanic for making sure the Transition was running good on race day!
To Ironman for putting on a great event.
To the people of Coeur d'Alene for being the best spectators of any event I have ever done or been to.
To the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup Monday night, putting the cherry on the sundae to a great weekend.
If I missed you, I am sorry, but if you supported me in anyway, I truly do appreciate it.
By the way, it is now Wednesday afternoon.  My aches and pains still have aches and pains.  That is a grueling event.  But very worth it.
I have been asked if I will do another.  No.  Yes.  Probably.  I am considering Arizona 2014.  Okay, I am in the preliminary planning stages, so I am seriously considering it.

A few photos:


 The Lake, the Monday before

Bike Racked and Ready


Getting aero!

All smiles, done and dusted!


My initial writing of this blog did not include some things I consider standard for my race reports.  Mostly a, this went well and lessons learned section, as well as what’s next? 

I had so much excitement in the days after the race and so many thoughts going through my head, I just forgot to include them. 

However, these are critical components, maybe not for the reader, but for myself, as typing it out helps me plan my next steps. 

First off, I didn’t even detail my run.  This was in part by design, as I wanted to focus on the tremendous crowd support.  The Ironman website mentions the run being the highlight of the race, but hey, they are selling the event.  Well in this case they under-sold it.  I am still amazed at the amount of people that came out to watch us have our few seconds of glory. 

Those of you that know me, or follow any of my musings know that the run is by far my weakest event.  My swim and bike are typically at or just below middle of the pack for my age group.  My run is in the bottom 10 to 15 percent. 

I had trained to a 5:30 to 5:45 run, and really thought this was doable, if I struggled maybe 5:45 to 6:00.  So how did I get to 6:33? 

Believe it or not, I had plenty of legs.  My heart rate seemed a bit high, but manageable.  Something weird happened between mile 9.5 and 13; I had a hard time getting air into my lungs.  I would be wheezing after 20 seconds of running.  So I walked, and walked, and walked.  Around the turn-around I felt like I had some air flowing again, so I resumed my run/walk strategy that I had timed out so diligently in my training, and was able to keep to it except for the big hill around mile 6/19.5.  I actually had a slight negative split to my run.  So even though the time was well off my goal and honest prediction, I was not too disappointed in it.  Especially since I ran the final half mile in and could have kept going! 

So what worked?

The swim:  Right on prediction and other than getting popped and elbowed, which is just part of it, the swim was as expected, and I came out feeling ready to ride. 

Nutrition:  I never felt like I was ready to bonk.  No GI distress except for a bit of gas which is normal for me, and I never felt like I had too much in me.  Following the Training Bible concept of eating “just enough.” It can be a delicate balance as in training I bonked more than once.  But I did not bonk at all during the race. 

Lessons learned: 

Transitions:  While I contend that a fast transition isn’t really necessary until or unless you are competing for a top 10 or Kona slot, over 9 minutes in T1 was a bit much.  I just didn’t have my thoughts organized or a good plan for getting through T1.   

The bike:  The time was okay, and was in my predicted range.  However, the first half was much better than the second.  And my cycling did not see the improvements through this training block that I wanted it to.  I have hit a plateau.  I think I need to make some changes to my cycling training.  And a big change is I need to invest in a power meter.  What gets measured gets improved, and there is no better way to measure one’s cycling that through a power meter.  Any of you loaded wonderful readers want to gift me one? 

The run:  It has been and continues to be my weakest sport.  Despite the 6:33 marathon, I did see improvements in my run throughout the training.  A big part of this was due to taking Brian M’s run clinic late last year, and working on better form.  I completed a six month build to the IM and stayed injury free while logging more miles than I ever have.  So now, its continue to build on that, and start to try and run faster over shorter distances to get that feeling going and continue to build run fitness. 

Weight:  I’ve come a long way from a guy that was a couple of donuts shy of 400 pounds.  But let’s face it, as a triathlete I’m pudgy, and if I want to knock off a couple of hours from my time, I need to find a way to take off another 20-30 pounds.  The added bonus to that is it will help my running, and hill climbing on the bike. 

So what is next? 

August 11 is the Chula Vista Challenge.  It is an Olympic distance tri that is very challenging with a mostly uphill bike and a very hilly usually HOT run.  I did it last year, it is a fun event, and I really just want to see if I can improve. 

September 30 is Superfrog.  The original 70.3, I also did it last year, and want to conquer that doggone beach run. 

Looking ahead to November of 2014:  IRONMAN Arizona!  And here it is for all to see:  I am targeting a sub 13 hour finish.  A two hour improvement; here we go!
And a couple more photos from the race:



  1. Unreal. You are amazing. I am inspired by you not only as a triathlete, but as my friend. I am so glad I saw you finish on the live stream---with tears in my eyes, I was yelling your name to the screen. You earned every bit of this triumph through your hard work and dedication. Kudos!

  2. Wow -- that's amazing. You're a true inspiration!

  3. Outstanding Steve!!! I was there supporting my best friend for his very first Ironman, I truly know how you feel. Way to go, great story great job and "to brag the rest of your life" You are an Ironman!!

    See you at the 2014 IMAZ, I am talking my brother in to do his very first!!

    warmest regards, Craig Woodhouse

  4. Congrats! Ironman CdA was my first Ironman last year and it was great! Definitely a hill, tough course but even better to conquer it!

  5. You were amazing! It was so neat to watch your progress over the course of the day and it was mind blowing to see you finish! Your hard work paid off! Congratulations!

    Can't wait to track you in your next 140.6!

  6. Superb post and I admire your hard work and I especially like your last part and can't believe you were 400 last YOU ARE AN IRONMANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

  7. I followed you live all day on the athlete tracker, I was exhausted froma distance.You are amazing! Congratulations!

  8. congratulations!! Sounds like an amazing race. I had no idea you had lost all that weight. Even more amazing!
    Go Tri Club! :o)

  9. Great job on your IM! You are the only other person I know who has Williams wheels. I love mine so far and getting ready to do my 3rd IM with them. Best of luck training for Arizona 2014!