Yes, it’s long and quite detailed, but I promise it won’t take you as long to read as it took me to write, let alone actually do the race. I’ve tried to make it both entertaining and informative.
Training & Preparation
I chose Ironman Coeur D’Alene (CDA) for my first Ironman race b/c it’s relatively close to home (15 hours by car) and it looked like as good a race as any to tackle. Plus, at the time I signed up, 2 other Mad Cows were doing Ironman races on the same day – Michael in CDA and Eric in France.
Based on my training, I was budgeting on:
1:45 swim / 7:00 bike / 5:00 run
With transitions, that would bring me just under 14:00 hours total time. My outside goals were 1:30 swim, 6:30 bike, and 4:30 marathon, plus transitions for a sub-13:00 finish. I figured it would take a perfect day (both racing and weather and lots of luck) for me to achieve a sub-13:00, so the 14:00 hour was really my focus.
Previous Half Ironman times were 5:42 (Lake Stevens) and 5:50 (Napa Valley). 14:00 hours falls in line with the general formula of “take your half ironman time and add 2 hours… Thanks to Cody for telling me this equation…) And who knows where and when you can shave 39 seconds here and there…
I mostly trained with Michael Lindquist, with a few rides and runs with Carson Jeffres, Bernhard Strum, Cary Craig, and Eric Russell. Peter Carroll is the other Mad Cowin the race, but our training schedules didn’t jive. Great to know that we had 5 of us all racing that day. For the bike portion, Michael and I worked up to a couple of 100+ milers, frequently taking the Cantelow-Cardiac-Wooden Valley-Cantelow loop from Davis. Towards the end of training, we did a few early morning Cantelow loops starting from Winters to get in some more hills.
Did lots and lots of swimming starting back in December, especially open water in Berryessa and weekly 5000-5500 yard swims in the pool. Didn’t do as much running as you’d think. Did one 19-mile run about 6 weeks before the race, with several 13-15 milers. My rationale was that I needed to be strong on the swim so I had plenty of energy for the bike (my weak area), and somewhat strong on the bike to have some gas in the tank for the run (my strong area). Going into training, I’d say the run was my strongest of the 3 segments, not from a speed perspective, but from an endurance perspective. I can do 10 and 11 minutes miles for a really, really long time.
Getting to CDA and Pre-Race
I arrived to CDA on Thursday. Drove from Davis – went about 10 hours on Wednesday, then finished the last 5 hours on Thursday. Rented a house via CDAGetaway (I totally recommend this service BTW). I initially planned/reserved a hotel about 1.5 miles north of downtown. The Shilo Inn was about $160/night, but a couple weeks before the race, I decided on a house instead so I could cook my own meals, be able to spread out and be closer to downtown. I didn’t plan this, but turns out the house was 1 block from both the bike and run course, which was hugely convenient for Lena (my wife and Team Captain), in-laws, and parents (aka “Official Crew of Team Sambucci” – more on this later…)
Once in town, I did a nice little jog on Thursday afternoon with Lena, then did a 12 mile bike ride on Fri AM followed by a 2 mile jog. On Saturday AM, Michael, Carson, and I met for a short morning swim to get used to the water. 61 degrees was chilly but very comfortable with a wet suit and neoprene cap (bought a cap just for the race and glad I did). I checked in on Friday afternoon – very quick and seamless. Just go from station to station signing waivers, getting your numbers, etc.
I checked in my bike and bags on Saturday afternoon like everyone else. Stupidly forgot to put the race number on my bike but the volunteer at the transition gate told me to just rack my bike and add the sticker in the AM. Duh…
The weather was perfect. Saturday morning was a little windy, so the practice swim was a little bumpy. But Sunday morning was incredibly gorgeous. I felt calm and relaxed and totally prepared but, here’s where the wheels almost fell off…
I planned to be at the race start around 5:45am. Transition area closed at 6:30, and with the bike and bag checked, there’s not much to do except get marked, put on your wetsuit, and check your bike for overnight blow outs and nutrition. Had my father-in-law (Paul) drive Lena and me to drop us off down near the race start. I randomly saw Michael getting marked, which was cool – made the race feel local seeing him there.
While checking my bike around 6:15am, I looked and realized I FORGOT TO BRING MY WATER BOTTLES WITH ALL OF MY NUTRITION! They were home, on the counter, in a box, not even made up. $%#&#^!^@%#@)&$!!!
Here’s where Team Sambucci kicked into high gear. Lena called Paul, gave him instructions to grab my stuff and drive it down. I explained the transition gatekeeper that I forgot my bottles and I wouldn’t have them before transition closed in 10 minutes. He calmly said – no problem – bring them to him and he’d put them on my bike. Paul showed up 5 minutes later, and I sat in the park using water from the public fountain to mix up my nutrition. Handed the volunteer the bottles and I was good to go. Whew!
Donning the wetsuit – Found a nice grassy spot away from the action, which wasn’t hard b/c it was 6:40 or so and with the race starting in 20 minutes, most normal people had made their way to the beach already. After putting on my wetsuit backwards, then stripping and re-installing correctly (with pictures to prove this…), I went through final equipment checks. Grabbed my heart rate strap and my Garmin. My Garmin? ISN’T THIS SUPPOSED TO BE ON MY BIKE ALREADY?! So I solicited another volunteer who strapped it to my bike for me. Oy… Now down to the race start.
2500+ people ain’t no joke, and the last racers all seemed to be using the stairs to get to the beach. The wall was only about 6-7 feet above the beach so I figured I just jump the wall and avoid the crowd. I was about to jump down when a random lady said – “Did you cross the timing mat?” Oops… That’s why everyone was using the stairs… (I swear I’ve done triathlons before…). Whew – lucky break there.
Got on the beach and heard the announcer say – “2 minutes until you become an Ironman!” Nothing like leaving yourself extra time. I didn’t have time to choose much of a spot, but was fortunately front center with the first buoy directly ahead of me. I’ve heard all kinds of strategies, and looking to the right, saw lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of racers strewn along the beach. Didn’t make sense to me to swim a longer distance than I had to, and I only had 120 seconds before the start so there I was, in the middle of it all, and it sounds like I was just next to Carson without knowing it.
Then I heard “1 minute until….” then without a countdown or anything, BOOM!!!!!! I looked at the guy next to me and said “Well, that was kind of sudden. Guess we better get started.” And off I went.
I watched YouTube videos of previous mass starts. Yikes. I was bit intimidated. Fortunately, b/c I was running so late, I didn’t have a chance to fill with anxiety. Once in the water, there was kicking, etc, but nothing horrible. I was able to find pockets of space, even if it meant criss-crossing a little. The first turn buoy was congested. The turn second buoy was the Bay Bridge on Friday afternoon before July 4th weekend. There was a horizontal line of 30+ swimmers, then 10-15 lines deep of people trying to make a left turn. Log jam. It eventually moved. I actually thought about diving underwater and swimming under everyone and coming up ahead of them but thought better of it b/c of my heart rate goals…
(During training, I learned how to bi-lateral and tri-lateral breathe. Extremely helpful. The sun was to the right after the turn, so I breathed to the left. Simple problem, simple solution. If you can’t bi/tri-breathe, learn how.)
To keep myself at my own pace, I just talked to myself – counting “1-2… 1-2” on my strokes, focused on how my arms were entering the water and the efficiency of my stroke. I imagined myself in a bubble – “stayed within myself” as the saying goes. I didn’t concern myself with time b/c I didn’t have a watch and wanted to focus on energy level post-swim – just 1-2ed my way through the swim and my own pace.
Getting out of the water, I saw the time – 1:15. Woohoo!! Waaaay ahead of schedule. Most importantly, I felt great! Strong and refreshed and definitely not tired. 1 leg down, 2 to go.
(Finished the swim 754th overall and 125th in my division – out of 327.)
Transition and Bike
Having wetsuit strippers was cool. I was a little confused on the transition b/c I was late to the pre-race briefing the night before (I know – shocking to hear based on the above pre-race commentary). But I changed, eventually found my way out of the tent (almost by way of the woman’s changing area – yes, I can be a mess on race day…), got my bike, re-attached the aforementioned Garmin, stopped to stretch, then nearly laughed at myself for a hideous 9 minute transition. Oh well… Still ahead of schedule.
The bike is my weakest segment (I was going to say “probably my weakest” but it is without a doubt… At 200 lbs, I just have a bigger frame. Maybe I missed my calling as an outside linebacker. I’ve only been doing any kind of serious cycling for about 18 months. Bought my first real road bike last April (which I used in the race – had it modified at Wheel Works with a new seat, tri-bars, and adjusted seat height in the early Spring).
Out of transition, you wind through downtown where I was passed by a guy with a prosthetic leg, then along the lake for some short hills before heading north and hitting flats for about 10 miles. This was a perfect opportunity for me to manage my heart-rate and relax. Cary Craig told me before the race- “Everyone goes firing out on the course. Let ‘em pass you. You’ll reel them all back in…” I played a little game with myself – kept my gears on the small ring up front and tried to see how low I could get my heart rate and just ignored everyone around me. By mile 10, I was well below my heart rate plan, so I knew I was in good shape and mentally relaxed. I also remembered to smile. Smiling is really important.
The course elevation maps would have you appear that there are few flat sections – only ascents and descents. Not true. Lots of flat and gradual downhills sprinkled throughout. I wouldn’t say there was much climbing – the biggest ascent was 300 feet, but a couple were a little stiff, though no worse than Cantelow. Having trained on the aforementioned route, they were plenty manageable. No unsafe riding that I saw. The roads were country roads like here near Davis – very clean, smooth, clear of gravel. Riders were knowledgeable to get right after a pass, etc. Almost no car traffic. Michael and I drove the bike course on Saturday, so I knew the hills and turns. Huge help.
Knowing yourself is so, so, so important. I was riding about the same pace as a couple of other racers –both women and men. One of the women was probably about my weight and just kept cruising along ahead of me. She climbed better than me too. If “getting chicked” bothers you, Ironman is not for you.
After the first loop, I was at exactly 3:15 on the bike, or 17mph average. This is a little fast for me, but I felt strong and that gave even more time to play with on the bike. Here, I knew that I could do a 3:45 second loop and still meet my 7 hour goal. This was also the first time I let myself consider getting to a sub-13:00. An even split would give me 6:30 on the bike and a 5:00 marathon gets me home in sub-13:00. I’ll freely admit this too – I also had fleeting thoughts of a sub-12:00 race, figuring a 6:30 bike and a 4:00 run… but I let that go pretty quickly, but not as quickly as I should have… It was also here where I knew I was fit enough and had trained enough to finish the race and be strong most of the day. Some kind of internal meter told me this.
It was nice to roll back through town, see Team Sambucci – even gave my Dad a high-five as I rolled by with both Moms snapping pictures. Around mile 70, I decided on a quick pit stop. When you gotta go, you gotta go, and my legs were a little stiff. I’d never ridden 70 miles straight before – I usually stop a few times during training rides. Fantastic decision. Took me less than 2 minutes to relieve myself and stretch, and I felt MUCH better after doing so. It’s tough to get yourself to stop b/c you’re thinking about the non-moving time, but I know that I gained this time back many times over by refreshing my legs. Saved at least 39 seconds in the long run…
I continued to go heart-rate, heart-rate, heart-rate on the bike (a thousand thank yous to Eric and Cary). I could tell I was riding slower, but with time in the bank, by the last major ascent around mile 85 or so, I starting thinking about the run. Mostly wanted to be sure I was hydrating and fueling and eating so that I had gas in the tank. Rolling back into town for the last 12 miles, I mostly just spun nice and easy. There was a little head wind, so it forced you to take it easy on your cranks. Hit the bike transition with a bike time of 6:48. Even slower on the second loop than I thought, but with the 22 minutes from the swim, I had just “bought” another 12 minutes from my total time goal of sub-14:00.
(Finished the bike 1483rd overall and 255th in my division.)
I mention nutrition quite a bit. Everyone has their own mixes, but I like the Hammer nutrition products. I also took their electrolyte pills every so often to keep the motor oil flowing through the system. On the bike, I had two water bottles. Pre-race, I mixed one bottle and filled the other with only powder to save on weight. When the first bottle was finished, I took water from a bike aid station and filled the other. Not only saves weight, but you get nice cold water for a while which is nice 5 hours into the race. Once the second batch of nutrition mix was finished, I refilled with Gatorade for the rest of the ride. Having a flip top water bottle allows you to ride and fill at the same time.
I ate two Clif bars on the ride. I had to choke them down, but I was hungry and knew from training that I can both keep solid food down and my body responds to it really well. This is different for everyone.
Transition & Run
Dropped off my bike, grabbed my run bag, changed, and off. I have a habit, like many people, of running faster than pace just off the bike. First ½ mile was around 8:30 – 9:00 pace. Again, it was all about heart rate and finding my stride. I was figuring over the long haul, I needed to slow down to at least a 10:00 minute mile if I was going to run the entire marathon. After a couple of miles, I settled in and starting plodding. I was tired, but felt good mentally. Nice to know that all I had left was a run to finish.
With a 2 loop out and back course, I broke up the run into 4 segments of 6-7 miles each. Keeps things manageable mentally with intermediate distances to achieve without pining for the next mile marker or checking your watch every 4 minutes. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep a 10:00 pace, but told myself to go as long as you can at this pace, and then drop to 10:15 when you need to, then 10:30 when you need to, then 10:45 when you need to… With time in the bank from the swim and bike, and knowing that an 11:00 mile is a 4:48 marathon, I was feeling cautiously optimistic of staying under my 5:00 marathon target while not forgetting how even the best can cash out. (See Paula Newby-Fraser in 1995.)
At mile 4, I saw Team Sambucci again. I told Lena to have my running belt ready in case I wanted to strap it on for the race. I decided not, but was feeling hungry so it was good to get a nice long swig of nutrition mix.
At mile 5, I thought the turnaround was just ahead, but turns out it’s a good 2+ miles down the road. That was mentally taxing b/c I kept thinking “the turnaround must be around this corner” then it wasn’t so that hurt a little. The real turnaround was just after the only steep ascent on the run. I turned for segment two…
Around mile 8, mile inner hamstrings started to cramp really, really badly. I contemplated whether to stop or to keep going, and finally elected to stop to stretch. Was only able to relieve the cramp by making a fist and punching my inner leg as hard as I could, but it worked and I started back on the 10:15 mile pace. Passed Team Sambucci again on mile 10 and then I knew I had a few miles to the 2nd turnaround. Like the first turnaround, I kept thinking it was closer than it was, so I adjusted my mental state to just think about getting to the next turnaround, then dealing with the last 12 miles later.
At mile 14, my hamstrings cramped again – worse than before. I took to landing jabs to my legs again and tried to do a more complete stretch. Problem was that when I tried to stretch one muscle group, another would cramp. I reached some level of homeostasis that enabled me to keep plodding along at 10:30-10:45 miles. Saw Team Sambucci at mile 17 and asked Lena for a couple of salt pills. She didn’t have any, and really could have used them. At mile 17.5, I started looking on the ground for extra pills that other racers lost from their pockets. Found one on the ground and was about to pop it in my mouth but I dropped it and decided to keep moving. 20 seconds later, I saw a white Suburu and an angel jump out of the car- Lena with a bag of electrolytes! Amen! Not sure if it was physical or mental, but it made a difference for sure.
Kept plodding along towards the final turnaround around mile 21.5 and looked at my watch to see that I was at 3:55 for the run so far. It’s not easy doing arithmetic after 12 hours of swim/bike/run, and without an abacus, I finally figured out that if I could keep running 11:00 miles, I could scrape by to a sub-13:00. The race was on. One problem– every time I tried to run a little faster, my legs would cramp, plus I still had the last ascent before the turnaround. Told myself – “Just stay within yourself and let it go. If you make it, you make it.” Plus, I‘d heard and read that in the last 1-2 miles, you get a rush of energy so I could make up a minute or two there, or at least 39 seconds.
Hit the turnaround, then started back for the last 4 miles. At mile 22, I saw the guy with the prosthetic leg again. He was sitting and adjusting it as anyone else would be tying their shoe. Got to mile 24 for a last glimpse of Team Sambucci. Dad was there with nutrition which I eschewed for the sake of saving precious seconds. Got past the mile 25 marker and overheard other racers say – “It’s 7:40 now” so I checked with local spectators, who confirmed – “It’s 7:40.” We started at 7:00am so that meant I had 20 minutes for less than 2 miles. Then less than a ¼ mile down the road, I asked a guy – “What time of day is it?” Response – “It’s 7:47.” Crap… The other people must have been rounding down. It could have been 7:43 back there, or their watches were wrong. Again, I tried to pick up the pace.
At mile marker 24 or 25, I lie still in my mind, awaiting that rush of adrenaline – like you’re just starting the race and that carries you home. It never came. I cursed those people for lying to me. :–) I just couldn’t get myself to go faster. Finally saw mile 25, then knew it was 1 mile to go and it was going to be really, really, really close. I rounded the last corner to head down the final straightaway, only it wasn’t the last corner – still one more right turn down the block, then a left turn, THEN you hit the final straightaway.
I turned the last corner and a volunteer was on the course, pointed, and said – “There’s the finish – you’re going to be an Ironman.” (Wow – getting chills and tears again just thinking about it.) The crowds where 5-6 deep for the last ¼ mile down the final stretch. They’re cheering wildly, and I took off my hat and allowed myself to smile for the first time since the first loop on the bike as I ran down the final stretch. I looked around at the faces and saw Paul ahead cheering ahead. Then I could see the clock in the distance, about 500 feet away – it just turned from 12:58:59 to 12:59:00. I had the sub-13:00!! I picked up my pace slightly, but not as much I wanted. Hit the final chute, looked to the left and saw Lena with the video camera jumping up and down, crossed the timing pad to hear the final, inanimate “beep” at 12:59:20. I let out a yell (3 actually), then jumped up and down in amazement that I broke 13:00. The handler looked at me and said – “I’ve got you. Are you okay?” Told him – “I just broke 13:00 hours. I can’t believe it.”
Got my medal and finisher t-shirt and met the family for hugs over the fence. I came in 1030th place, and I had just won Ironman Coeur D’Alene with a time of 12:59:20.
(Finished the run 786rd overall and 118th in my division, which means I gained back more than the 130 places I gave up on the bike. Cary was right – just reeled them back in…)
Looking back at race day, there are so many little decisions that saved me 39 seconds. Lining up in the front on the swim, stopping to stretch on the bike, bombing the last big straightaway descent so I blasted through the subsequent hill (which I did on both loops), skipping the special needs bag on the bike and run, doing the extra core strength exercises during training that took 15 minutes every time. Who knows? But I learned that time can matter in the end, so I’m going to work on my transitions for sure and keep doing what I doing in training, and then some. I would have been super thrilled with a 13:01 finish, but know myself enough that I would have had a sliver of disappointment, as sick as that is, if had I not come in at sub-13:00 if I ended up that close.
Cary sent me an email before the race – “No matter how your race is going, race it perfectly and have an incredible journey along the way.” I had the perfect race. The months of training and praying for a great day all came true. I ran my perfect race.
It takes a crew to do Ironman. Lena is incredibly supportive – before, during, after the race – and everything in between. This Ironman thing sits well with me and it’s only possible with her love and support. Thank you.
Also, to Jim & Joan (my parents) and Paul & Nina (my in-laws) – thank you for your time and efforts in CDA. Everyone had a job and did it brilliantly. You kept me going with the “Go Bucci” signs and cheering. Having a crew of friendly faces throughout the course matters. It matters a lot.
To Keith & Susan – thank you for watching our kittens and house while away. Very comforting to know all is well back home.
Race Organization, Volunteers & Spectators
Those that know me from other race reports know that I value excellent race organization as much or more than the race or the course itself. There can be lots of pre-race jitters and the last thing I want to do when I’m racing is think. I did the Lake Stevens 70.3 race last year and was disappointed with the race organization in general. I thought it should have been much better for an Ironman-branded race. Well… CDA was EXTRAORDINARY!! Not a glitch in the system.
From the on-site registration to the bag/bike drop-off, to the race volunteers and aid stations – it was all phenomenal. I’ve read that there were 2500 volunteers – that’s 1 per racer. Truly amazing. Every station was well-equipped with Gatorade, water, cola, sponges and ice (on the run portion), food, and multiple tables on both sides of the course so that you could grab what you needed and keep moving. The people in CDA are awesome.
Thank you to the thousands of anonymous spectators that persistently carried me through the run with – “C’mon 706!” and “Nice work 706!” and even fibbing publicly with such statements as “Looking strong 706!”
So what’s next?
Yes, I’m already battling the “now what?” syndrome. I know I’ll never compete for a Kona spot, and now that I’ve proven that I can do an Ironman, the next goal is a bit elusive right now. I’m planning to run the San Francisco marathon later this month to bide time and stay in shape. The really cool Ironman races for the rest of 2010 and 2011 are sold out already (Western Australia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Florida). No desire to do Wisconsin, Louisville, Texas, or Phoenix. Maybe St. George, but it doesn’t set up well for me with the climbing. European races sound dangerous and brutal from what I’ve heard. I’d say Ironman Cozumel is on the radar for November though…
Michael L. is already signed up for CDA next year, and wants me to come along. I’m not ready to commit a year out quite yet, but I can see that happening. You know – got to go sub-12:00 now…