Friday, June 27, 2008

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: the US Championship





I went up to Idaho with an incredibly relaxed and confident attitude. I had forsaken the temptation of racing an early season Ironman for the first time in four years; I had trained well in Austin for four months, before doing a shorter Ironman build in Boulder; I was rested, I was fit, and I was motivated to race. The perfect storm was brewing for my best ever race.

Prior to the race, I pointed out to Greg Welch that being fit, rested, and motivated were really only half of the things I needed to have in order to win the race. The other 50% was made up of a well executed race day. If I delivered that, I could win the race. As we all know, "if" is a pretty big word in the world of Ironman racing.

Race day started out as cool and beautiful as the weatherman had predicted. The lake was calm, and the water temperature was perfect. I don't just say this to paint a pretty picture; the water was 60 degrees, which is just cool enough to keep my lizard skin from overheating in the swim.

I opted not to take a long warm up, which is a departure from my pre-race norm. I figured I'd only start to cool of if I was in the lake too long before the start. Positioning myself at the start line, I chose not to pay attention to where anyone else was standing. I have finally learned that my best swim will come when I do what's best for me, rather than key off any of the others' actions.

Two or three strokes into the race, I found myself on Viktor's feet. He had green, I had purple (caps). He was easy to spot amongst the others in yellow. I stayed put for a couple hundred meters, enjoying a very, very comfortable start. We were barely above a float, as far as I was concerned.

As we neared the first turn buoy, I took Amanda's advice by making a surge. My normal swim strategy is to hold on for dear life, while making no sudden movements. Amanda knew I had worked hard to get my swimming back to where it was years ago, and she felt I could play some games in the water. This surge to the first turn was only the first of many little games I would play during the 2.4 miles.

Out of the turn and into the sun, I kept my surge going for several meters. I noticed that Viktor was still in tow, and the two yellows were hanging tough. Through the second buoy, I eased up, stayed the course, and returned to a comfortable pace. Nearing the beach, Viktor came back through to take the lead. In spite of my games, we were actually working well to pull one another through the course.

Exiting the water and re-entering is one my least favorite parts of a swim. Lucky for me, we were in a group of four, and Viktor make a right turn, instead of the left we were supposed to take. I gracelessly flopped back into the water, checked yellow 1 and yellow 2, noticed Viktor's slight gap, and I dropped the hammer. How much fun it is to be able to race the swim!

I tried as hard as I could to drop the trio. I went through the first buoy, and kept the pedal down. My effort was for naught, as they were all still in contact. It doesn't hurt to try, and the efforts to drop my competitors did not seem to hurt me in the least. I settled back in and saved energy for my next effort.

Rounding the turn, I made another go at dropping the yellows. I zigged left, I zagged right, I surged and I veered. Nothing worked, so I settled back into a normal pace. Again, I reveled in the fact that I was in control of my swim (and of others') for the first time in a while.

Before I end up with a novel about the first 54 minutes of my race, I had better touch on the bike race for a spell.

Starting the ride, I knew I was rested, and that I'd be strong enough to push the pace. I reeled in the guys who beat me out of transition (they beat me by a long shot). I kept the pressure on, knowing that my fitness would allow me to rebound from any blow-ups later in the game.

The splits were all in my favor as I entered the hilly and scenic parts of the race. Evans' lead was down to 2:00, to 1:45, to 1:15, and finally to 45 seconds. He informed the spotters that I should hurry up and catch him. I informed them right back that he needed to slow down so I could catch him!

The games were about to end, as Tom put his back-half strength to the test. Somewhere around mile 45, he dropped the hammer. I stayed steady knowing he was going to do this. My only hope was that I would have caught him by the time he made that move. 45 seconds was as close as I'd get to the hard charging dentist all day long. (Is it foreshadowing when I give that away, or is it just giving it away?)

As I rolled over hills, pushed through the windy flats, and collected my thoughts for the run, my strongest impression was that I was finally dialed in perfectly with my bike fit (thank you Jack and Zane!). This is a funny thing to think about, but it occurred to me nonetheless: I was so powerful in that position, and I was ready to run!

My ideal scenario coming off the bike was to have a time deficit to Tom (who I historically outrun), and a time gap on Viktor (who historically outruns me). I knew that to chase down my prey, while simultaneously being chased by a predator, would yield my best marathon to date.

I could not believe how light and fresh and speedy I felt when my legs first touched ground in transition. I had zero sign of the hobbled, post-ride stiffness that will sometimes greet us in T2. I was ready to run.

My first few miles came by with incredible ease: 6:01, 5:57, 6:10, 6:12. I made that fourth mile split with a brief stop to stretch the hamstrings. They felt a bit of a twinge toward cramping, and I wanted to be safe. Back through the next eight miles, I was effortlessly chipping away at Tom's lead. My ten mile spit was just at 1:02. His 6:30 lead off the bike was down to 3:55 by mile ten. My jock math was calculating the necessary difference of pace to erase my deficit by the finish line.

My jock math may have distracted me from what was about to happen.

Mile thirteen was about as different as it could have been from the preceding twelve. My stride shortened, my energy dipped, my intestines twisted up, and my momentum nearly halted. What I needed was a porto-potty, and I needed it soon.

The energy of the hot corner, and all that goes with it, carried me to the Honey Bucket (that is what they are named up in CdA) stationed near special needs. I jumped in, jumped out, and plugged back along to the second turn. I took note of Evans, he took note of me, and the race was still on.

To forget about Viktor during the marathon is a rare occurrence, but it's just what happened. What was going on behind me was of no more importance than what was going on in the life of Brittany Spears. I was focused on my chase.

Normally a brief stop in the little blue box takes care of everything. My return to 6:20 and 6:30 miles indicated to me that I had gotten past what was ailing me. By mile 16, I quickly concluded that was not the case. Another quick stop (to deal with the party in my pants) had me in and out of another Honey Bucket. It was Ironman racing at its finest: it's dirty, it's fast, it's hard, and there are no guarantees.

From mile 17 to mile 20, I went about as far to the dark side as I could go. My stomach would tolerate no more Power Gel or Gatorade. It didn't seem to even like water, and salt tabs were out of the question. I walked up a hill. I ran down the other side. Amanda was nearby and when I passed her, she yelled at me to dig deep, and that catching Tom was still a viable option. All I could think of was whether or not I'd make it to mile 18. I walked again, and I stopped again. This time there was nothing but a tree to hide my potty stop from the world.

Getting going again, I realized that my body needed carbs. I thought of one thing: coke. I made it to mile 19, and began my seven-mile parade, fueled by coke and water, coke and water. It seemed to settle the gut a bit, or at least it seemed not to upset it further. There was really nothing else left to evacuate from my system, so maybe I was back in the mix.

At the base of the turnaround climb, just about 20.5 miles into the marathon, Viktor came by me. "What is wrong," he uttered. I just said one word: "shit." Sorry 'bout that, but it was on my mind. My pace at that point was a full-blow Kona Shuffle, not unlike my stride that was captured in the 2000 IM Lake Placid TV footage, when Dave Scott voiced over these words: "Lovato just got passed by Cam Brown, and you just don't come back from a pass like that!"

Realizing that my walk-and-stop program had only then lost me the second spot was a bit of a mental recharge for me. No, I was not going to win, and no, I was not getting second, but yes, I was going to survive. As a matter of fact, if the coke did its thing, I was going to be able to compete again, and after all, that is what I was there to do.

A quick time check to fourth place told me that I could run my way home, and still hang onto that final podium spot. I was back in the game. I didn't feel too hot, and I didn't have more than a handful of caffeine-spiked simple sugars to work with, but I was in the game. No more walking.

I had successfully gone from racing to survival and back to racing.

Nearing the finish line, I began to feel the pull and the draw that downtown Coeur d'Alene produces on Ironman day. That community loves this event, and the event is characterized by all of their energy. They got me down Sherman Ave, and they got me to the finish line.

I wobbled and tottered a bit as I crossed the line, but it was a satisfied wobble-totter. Tom Evans had an amazing day, and Viktor was a strong second. The three of us have made up the podium two years in a row, and only one other man has won this race, outside of us. I think we all look forward to next year already.

From all races, we must take home a lesson or two or six. And in this case, I learned my lesson with the help of Robert from First Endurance. After listening to my account of the race, he promptly pointed out that my excess sodium intake was the culprit to blame for my nutritional hardships. On a day when temperatures never really got above 70 degrees, my body was in electrolyte overload. While I followed a sound calorie intake plan, my supplemental sodium intake pushed me over the edge with respect to electrolyte balance. It now is very clear that too much sodium can draw water from the blood, back it up in the small intestines, and effectively stop absorption. With no absorption of the food and liquid going in, there is only one way to empty the gut, and we've already discussed what that means. Lesson learned.

Getting to the finish line of my 21st Ironman was really only possible because of the support I had going into the event. I am thankful to have an incredible team of family, friends, and sponsors around me. They all believe in me, and they all show their belief in a tireless fashion.

Thank you to each and every one of you, and in particular, thank you to Amanda for giving me the courage to push myself before and during that great event.

18 comments:

Spokane Al said...

You are one tough competitor and I will be looking forward to seeing your future results.

And, as a old fart age grouper, it was an honor to be on the same course as you.

Jimmy said...

Hi Michael! I'm a big fan and have been following your blogs for the last few years. Hearing what sorts of ups and downs you go through and how you get get through them helped me tremendously in preparing for my first Ironman in Coeur D'Alene this year. I have to say my wife and I were a little disappointed to not see you in a speedo on race day...I imagine that would make for some unnecessary race-day pain. You are one tough dude and congrats on bouncing back from Montezumas Revenge!

Erin said...

It's probably a good thing you didn't wear a speedo after all. Otherwise the party in your pants would've been a party all over Coeur d'Alene. Sound choice, Mr. Lovato. And a kick ass race!

kerrie said...

seriously - were they kidding with whole 'honey bucket' thing? what a sick joke! you had a great performance despite an "off" day.
sorry i didn't get to see you guys after to chat before we took off- i loved the course but hated the cold - wheels seemed to be fine;).....
so you must be the "us champion" now, no?

CoachLiz said...

Those Honey Buckets...I remember them well from the Nike Hood to Coast Relay I did last year. I loved the fact that they had hand sanitizer in them!

At least no one is calling you a Honey Buck....yet....

Thank you for the great race report and for hanging in there when it seemed like the odds were stacked against you. Your struggle and performance is such an inspiration to the not-so-speedy age groupers, like me.

Bigun said...

I got one, "go Vato!" in at least, on the run course. You went by in the opposite direction too fast on the bike to even be sure it was you, let alone cheer.

thanks for the nutrition tip...I drank a buttload of gatorade out there (no water) and suffered almost as bad as you on the run - (in a german accent...) too much salt...

TRI-ROB said...

Great RR! Thanks for taking us along!

Breathe...

Michael said...

I was coming down from the turn when Victor was 10 meters behind you and Amanda was pleading with you to keep running and my heart sank for you. I didn't know if you'd keep going and was very excited when I finished and heard you had finished and in 3rd no less. The epitome of class and perseverance. I'll see you in Kona, and I'll be gunning for you.... ;)

tri-dogmom said...

My group was all rooting for you!! We too suffered from some stomach issues that day... Mine was on the bike, my husbands on the run. I'm blaming it on lake water!!! :-)

Looking forward to your next WIN!

John said...

Thanks for a great race report and congrats on overcoming some tough issues to get on the podium. I apprecaite all the insight and info as I try to improve my own racing (well back in the pack). Funny how differently you and Amanda describe your crapping episodes!! What a riot.

UntPawGal02 said...

Congrats on a good race at CDA :) I saw you several times throughout the day on the course and you looked fabulous.

Flatman said...

Viktor came by me. "What is wrong," he uttered. I just said one word: shit.

You are so real. That is what makes us cheer for you and WANT you to win. Please don't lose sight of this. Congrats on a fine race with hard "party-pants" conditions.

Bravo.

Cody the Clydesdale said...

way to push through it. Your an inspiration. I'm sorry that you had issues with digestion. Considering the stomach issues & you still finished 3rd, I think that is a great sign for Kona!

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

Hi Michael, I was volunteering at IMCDA - I was at the sunscreen area at T2 and I saw you leave in excellent shape. I was pulling for you out there - you did indeed look really strong.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge about electrolyte balancing. I'm gearing up for Vineman, and it's my first iron distance, so I'm nervous about that very issue. The distance is new territory for me.

Anyway - you had a good race in spite of the obstacles. I love to hear such a positive attitude about that. I'll be rooting for you at Kona!

CactusTri said...

Thanks for the great RR and congrats on a great job in spite of some challenges on the way. I did some sprints to a few of the porta-potties at IMAZ in April, so I can relate.

rkunz said...

Michael,
Great race recap..just like you and I discussed the day after the race. We all know you are tough as nails and have a big following of fans. I just want to clarify for your followers that if you use EFS, then electrolyte pill are not needed.
Robert-First Endurance

E-Dub said...

Amazing effort, Michael. Thank you for your inspiration.

EF

tribabe said...

Excellent report! Sorry for the troubles and thanks for sharing what you think the cause was. I trotted from one honey bucket to the next on the same course a few years ago and can "feel" your pain.