Race Report: Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2009

Ever since I have been home from Ironman, I have been in a bit of a haze. It’s not necessarily a bad haze and it’s not necessarily because of Ironman. It’s summer in Saskatchewan, which is a little bit hectic because here on the harsh and cold prairies we try to fit in a lot of summer into a few short months. Alas, I have been busy seeing friends, walking my dogs, seeing my family, and in there I have been going to doctors appointments and worrying a bit about my health. So what the heck happened at Ironman? Well, this is how it happened for me….

I awoke on June 21st completely calm, excited, and pretty much stoked for the day ahead. My motto as of late is that a day swimming, biking, and running is a great day in my life. This particular day just happened to be a bit longer than a usual day of doing these three sports in conjunction with each other. My support person and friend, Dana, was great in keeping me calm and was extremely supportive in all the right ways. My training buddies and I went about our pre-race routines in the morning and we got out the door pretty much when we wanted to. Trevor did have an issue of forgetting his goggles, which is why his brother and support person was great and drove all the way back to get him the goggles. When Dana and I got down to the start area, it was a zoo. I just happened to run into a body marker and got marked up… they marked my age as 30 even though I told them I am 29. I am fairly prepared for the big ol’ 3-0 thanks to this race and year of racing in the 30-34 category. The athlete area was really crazy and it felt really disorganized. Actually, that is probably my biggest complaint of this race: the set-up of the transition area, the expo, and the whole area where people spent the most time. It was disorganized and was really frustrating to get around. I walked up and down a pebbly sidewalk in my wetsuit with bare feet trying to find the Special Needs drop-off and then trying to find the place to get to the beach. My only other previous IM experience was Ironman Canada and I really appreciate it a lot more now. It probably helps that IMC has been around for >25 years and this was IMCDA’s mere 7th year.

Once I got to the beach, I found some other Saskatoon triathletes and my training buddy, Navarra.  Before we knew it, the gun went off. I thought the swim wasn’t too bad. It was pretty crowded, but wasn’t as rough as I thought it would be with all those people around. I consider myself a fairly “seasoned” triathlete now and can really maneuver my way through the crowd. That was a nice realization. I did have someone actually pull my goggles right off my face. Luckily, I had my goggles in between my two swim caps and it stayed pretty much in place. [Side-note: two swim caps is my open-water tip to all triathletes because it keeps your head warm and the noise to a minimum.] I did say some profanities before I put the experience behind me and kept going. The first lap went pretty well. Doing two laps was pretty fun, actually. The swim didn’t feel nearly as long as Ironman Canada. I came out at 1:24, which was almost 10 minutes slower than what I had wanted, but I was all right with it anyway. The day was just about getting through it.

The morning was actually pretty nice in terms of weather.  It was sunny and fairly warm. The water was warm and I didn’t feel cold at all getting on my bike, but I think the temperature dropped and/or the wind picked up because it was not warm for the rest of the day. Because I’m a fairly fast swimmer and not as fast on the bike, I got passed about 1000 times (this is not an exaggeration!). It can be a bit disheartening, but I kept my spirits up by cheering on every person that passed me. The first lap of the bike was great. I smiled, cheered, thanked volunteers, and was really enjoying the beautiful scenery that was all around me. The course was pretty technical and extremely difficult. Lots of big ups and downs. Some sharp turns at the bottom of hills, which made me grateful for my mountain biking background. It was pretty obvious that lots of the other riders were not as comfortable on the technical sections, but it was heaven for me: risky, fast, and fun! I loved it! Plus, I was going at a good pace. After the first lap, my average speed was >26km/hr. That exceeded my expectations a lot.

However, it was soon after the halfway point of the bike that I started to feel a little “weird,” for lack of a better word. I thought that maybe I was low in blood sugar. So I took in Gatorade at the next aid station and an extra gel. My lightheadedness was strange and not a sensation that I was used to feeling. I have felt low blood sugar, I have felt cold (it was pretty windy by this point and getting cold on the bike), and I have bonked. This was not like any of those feelings. I started to feel really dizzy and nauseated. Actually, the only other time I felt even remotely similar was when I had inner ear vertigo and was dizzy for no reason at all. At the Special Needs area, I stopped and got off my bike. The patient volunteer held my bike while I sat on the ground to eat my Clif bar (mmm… chocolate mint is my favorite!) and drank more Gatorade. I felt heavy as I got up and got back on my bike. This is about where the smiling stopped. I kept going on the flat section and decided to keep going until I saw my support people, who were cheering us on a few kms up the road. I was extremely relieved to see them at the 120km point.

I immediately got off my bike and sat down on the road. Dana rubbed my arms to warm me up. I felt really really cold, which was weird because I had trained in weather EXACTLY like that wearing EXACTLY what I was wearing. It was about 12-13 degrees Celsius (I made someone convert it for me) and pretty windy and cloudy. All of a sudden, I couldn’t sit up any more. I laid down and started to hyperventilate and have a seizure and convulse on the ground. Dana held my head in her lap as I did my thing for a few seconds. Then my mouth went numb and I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes because they were numb and tingly. Dana said that one of my eyes was shut while the other one was open and the right side of my mouth drooped. The paramedics were called and they took me off the course in an ambulance. I couldn’t talk very well because my mouth was numb, but it came back after about 15-20 minutes (I think – time was really hard to tell at this point).

They took me in an ambulance, which was my first ambulance ride ever. Exciting. No sirens or lights, though. The paramedics took me to the med tent instead of the hospital, much to my Canadian doctor’s chagrin. It took them a really long time to warm me up. My friend Dana said that the moment she knew I was going to be all right was when they offered me chicken broth and I said, “No, no. I can’t eat that. I’m vegan!” I then proceeded to argue with the paramedic that I did not need an IV because I was not dehydrated. We argued for a bit, but I lost and he poked me not once, but twice to get the IV in. Actually, Jessie and Butch were great EMTs and I was glad to have them helping me back to health. Actually, I realized on the ride to the med tent that Jessie was pretty cute and kind of wished that I didn’t look like shit from swimming 3.8km, biking 120km, and having a gas mask on my face after a seizure. Oh well, I flirted anyway! That was the other moment when Dana knew I would be all right.

Once in the med tent, they warmed me up with space blankets and heated bottles of water. Dana entertained me later on that night by using the space blanket as a cape and made me laugh as she jumped around the house. Eventually, I got my dry clothes bag and I saw other people come in and out of the med tent. I had strict orders to go home and not to cheer my friends on from the sidelines, which I was not very happy about. At the same time I didn’t want to be cold anymore so I did as I was told. My training buddy Navarra also left the course by ambulance later on after 14 miles on the run because of hypothermia. Trevor was the only one of the three of us that made it through the course. We watched it on our laptop at the house and cheered him on. There were big hugs and lots of beer once he got home. A big congrats to the newest Ironman in my life!

Actually, after I warmed up I felt great and was really disappointed to not be finishing the race. The next day I was a little fatigued, but my muscles were ready to go. I was ready to go. I wished that I could have done the whole day over again. Since I have been back, I have seen two doctors and they both said that they think I had a mini stroke. Apparently I could have been doing “anything,” which I find kind of hard to believe given the circumstances. It was probably because of the increased blood-flow that made it happen during Ironman or something like that. I am being referred to a neurologist and she’s trying to get me some other tests. However, it’s been almost two weeks since I saw her and have not got any tests done other than some blood tests, which came back normal. Another doc wants me to get some fasting blood tests, so I’m getting those tomorrow.

Since getting back and taking in the whole ordeal, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with myself. However, I quickly made an alternative plan and talked to my coach. This weekend coming up I’m going to go to BC to do the Desert Half Ironman and attempt to qualify for Ironman Canada at the end of August. I just don’t want to waste all of that time and energy on a race without finishing it. I feel like I’m in a slump of some sort. My last three major races over the last two seasons have been flops. My minor races have gone all right, but I seem to have a hard time with injuries and technical difficulties at my A-races. I am going to try to push through the slump and maybe I’ll get to the end of the tunnel for a great race in Penticton at the end of August. Even if I don’t qualify, I’ll be happy to do another race so soon. I’m ready for it. Did I mention I’m going to bike there from Saskatoon? With my two dogs? Oh yeah, I’m doing that too.

I’m putting together some photos from the race to put up here. Stay tuned for an Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2009 Phupdate!

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