Friends and Family,
Here is my race report from last weekend's race in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Some race results and thoughts, and it also includes contextual info about racing triathlon. So lots of text I hope you'll enjoy, and, for the more visual minds among us, some pictures ;)
Sunday June 28, 2015
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Usually the idea of a non-stop race to complete the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run is enough to make an Ironman event pretty dramatic. This race received a little extra anticipation because of the backdrop provided by the forecast. The 10-day forecast called for temperatures into the upper 90s on race day. I thought, surely, this was for dramatic effect and that the forecasted temps would come down as race day got closer. Nope. Just the opposite. A few days before the race the predicted temperature hit 100. Then predictions just kept rising until forecasters were calling for record temperatures into the mid and even upper 100s on race day.
I put on my best guise of being unconcerned about the high forecasted temps, and I really was not overly concerned - I knew I just had to adjust my game plan. Even so, there was some anxiety. There are a few issues, some obvious and some less obvious, with 100+ degree temps for an ultra-distance race.
-"It's uncomfortable." Too bad.
-"You've never worked out in 100 degree heat." Oh well.
-"Dehydration." You lose water weight when you sweat. Your performance starts to be affected if you lose more than 2% of your body weight. At my sweat rate of 1.5 liters per hour, that would only take 1 hour. Over the course of 10 hours, I could lose over 30 lbs of water. If I was only able to drink enough to replace half of that, I would end the race down 10% body weight. A 10% body weight water loss would affect me to the point that I probably would not be able to walk straight or do basic arithmetic.
-"Salt Losses." Sweat contains salt. If I only drink water to replace sweat losses, I will succeed in maintaining my body's water weight, but I will fail to maintain my electrolyte balance. My body's sodium concentration would become dangerously dilute ("hyponatremia") if I only drank water to replace my 30 lbs of sweat losses, and, again, I would probably end up unable to walk straight or do basic arithmetic. And my sympathetic nervous system could shut down, and that would kill ya.
-"Core Temperature." Your body temperature increases when you workout. It's dangerous to get your core body temperature too high, so your body has a built in thermostat to prevent runaway temperature increases. Your nervous system's "thermostat" will force you to go slower as your body temperature increases - you literally will not be able to go any faster. You will also sweat more and more as your temperature increases. Sweating and slowing down will usually prevent dangerous temperature increases, however dehydration can reduce your 'thermostats' effectiveness and lead to heat stroke/exhaustion.
I could go on and on about hydration. Then about nutrition (I burn around 8,000-10,000 calories during an ironman. To make it to the finish line, at least a few thousand of these calories will need to be replaced on the move, during the race). Some call nutrition/hydration the 4th event of triathlon, and I can get geeky about this stuff. But I'll restrain myself for now ;)
The race start was moved an hour earlier to help keep us out of the heat, so wake up was 3 AM. Breakfast was a white bagel, PB, apple sauce, banana, coffee and a light protein shake. The Kurey Race Team (Mom and Dad are seriously the best support crew) biked over to the race start/transition area, arriving around 4:30. This pre-race period is maybe my favorite period of the day. Tension and anxiety are HIGH. People have been training for months or years, and everybody is nervous about something - will I meet my time goals, is that tender hamstring truly recovered, are my socks in my bike gear bag, did I really train enough, are my sunglasses in my run gear bag, will I even be able to finish this darn race, can I hold it long enough to get through this porta-john line, maybe I should check my gear bags one more time... Ya, everyone is nervous and has a million thoughts going through their heads, but people are SO stoked. Just ready to do the thing. Enough of people asking if they're excited, enough figuring out logistics, enough training, enough anticipation already!
Start time is 5:45 AM. Clock reads 5:30: Wetsuit zipped. Swim cap on. Goggles sealed. Timing chip secured. National anthem. Professional men's start. Professional women's start. Clock reads 5:42 AM. 3 minutes to go. To the water's edge. 5:44 AM. 1 minute to go. Yeeee Yee!
The cannon booms at 5:45 AM, 1,800 of us sprint into the water and it's on. No more anxiety, no doubts about preparation or planning. For the next 10 hours, I was in the zone, truly in the moment. I literally don't think I thought about a single thing besides racing, moving forward as quick as possible.
I've been working hard on my swimming the last few months, and it showed. I just focused on swimming straight from buoy to buoy, on my body position and form, and on maintaining a threshold/sustainable effort. I finished my first lap (1.2 miles) in 30 minutes. Lap 2 (1.2 more miles) took 31 minutes. Last September, at Ironman Wisconsin, I was 642nd out of the water. 9 months later, at this race, I was 145th out of the water. So that is some pretty sweet progress. And, as I ran toward the bikes, I got a shout out from "The Voice of Ironman", Mike Reilly, "Luke Kurey from Germantown, Wisconsin, coming out of the water. Have a great time out there today, Luke!"
At this point in my triathlon career, cycling is definitely my strongest of the 3 disciplines. I've just spent more time on a bike than I have running or swimming, and I've become really comfortable biking long distances. So I was happy to be out of the water and onto the bike, and I was ready to do some work (and I had a great song looping through my head - "Chillin It" by Cole Swindell).
112 miles is a pretty serious ride in any context, and it gets made way more complicated in an Ironman because of the 26 mile run that follows it. In a traditional bike race, like in a time trial you might see in the Tour de France, cyclists push and strain with every fiber to get to the finish line a few seconds faster, and they cross the finish completely spent and exhausted. The cyclists in a bike race are riding as fast as they possibly can. In triathlon, there is a pace that you can ride and a pace that you should ride. You don't want to ride your "can" pace, because you will start the run exhausted and have a miserable experience for 26 miles. Pacing, nutrition and hydration are the name of the game.
It's easy to get caught up in racing the people around you on the bike course, but you really need to ride your own race. I constantly remind myself that it is not a bike race, and that I need to take care of myself now so that I can perform at a high level for 9 more hours. It's a pretty systematic thing. Drink some sugary water every 10 minutes. Chase it with plenty of plain water. Keep your heart rate steady - no breaks and no big surges. Some people flew past me during the first 20 miles of the bike. I would just say to myself, "See you later today..." And I did catch almost all of them 3 and 4 hours into the bike. Steady wins the race.
I wanted to finish the 112 mile, two-loop bike segment in 5 hours, or a 22.5mph average. I didn't really think about that during the race, though. I just kept my heart rate in the zone I thought would be sustainable (135-140 beats per minute), kept eating, kept drinking and let the speed take care of itself. I finished the first 56 mile loop in 2:35. It started to get pretty hot on the second loop, so I really started pounding water, and I ended up drinking somewhere around 2.5 gallons of water just on the bike. I also had around 2000 calories. My pacing, nutrition and hydration strategy seemed spot-on, and it helped me get through the second loop with a pretty even split (2:40 first 56 miles, 2:45 second 56 miles) and feeling pretty good to start the run. My total bike time was (5:15), on a tough (hilly) course and a hot day (95 degrees by the time I finished the bike). I'm really happy about how well I biked and I'm showing some great progress here, too - 380th bike split last September at Ironman Wisconsin, 48th best bike split this day at Coeur d'Alene.
If you are fit and properly pace an iron-distance race, your entire race will be at a slightly uncomfortable pace, but not really terribly hard until somewhere around mile 16 or 20 of the run. At this point, it becomes pretty difficult to continue at your current pace and you really have to 'embrace the suck' and push hard. Unfortunately for me on this day, that feeling came around mile 4. It did in fact suck, and I embraced it as best I could, but there was no way I was going to meet my goal pace for the run. I started out running the first few miles pretty much right on my goal pace (8 minutes per mile) but just couldn't hold on to it. Too hot (104 degrees for the high) and I simply haven't done enough run training yet. I've only run more than 13 miles once before in my life (Ironman Wisconsin). Before 2 years ago, I probably could have counted on my fingers the number of times I ran more than a mile. And I'm only recently running healthy - in mid-February I started doing repeats of walking 4 minutes, running 1 minute. A couple weeks later I started walking 3 minutes and running 2 minutes. And so on, until I finally started continuous running on June 1, 4 weeks before Ironman Coeur d'Alene. So I'm pretty new to the whole running thing, and I'll get better and better.
I was pretty cooked by mile 10, and I started breaking the remainder of the run into 5 minute segments. Just run 5 minutes, then walk for 1 minute. Make it to the next aid station, then you can walk for a minute. Run to that tree, then you can walk. I was putting ice down my shorts, down my top, holding ice in my hands, pouring water over my head - anything to try to stay cool. The Coeur d'Alene residents were pretty great, they cheered and supported us all day long, and tons of them brought out sprinklers or would spray runners with a hose to help keep us cool. In most moments in life, I would be pretty upset if some random person sprayed me with a hose, but I did not see anyone steer clear of the sprinklers or hoses on this day. You were dry again 2 minutes later anyways.
I ended up running a 4:13 marathon. Nowhere close to my 3:30 goal, but pretty decent considering my run training and the heat. And I'm still feeling healthy after 1.5 Ironmans in 2 weeks, so I can keep putting in the training miles and I know that my run will get faster and faster. September's IMWI - 300th fastest run. This day at IMCDA - 166th fastest run.
I ended up finishing in 10 hours, 37 minutes, good enough for 3rd in my age group and 92nd overall. Pretty sweet. I really do think that I can and will go under 10 hours at my next full-length race - Ironman Wisconsin on September 13th. But hey, pretty great day! I'm really happy with my continued improvement, and you have to be pretty pleased any day that you finish an Ironman.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you all had great Independence Day celebrations!
Carter Lake Crossing (3 mile swim) - July 11
Ironman Wisconsin - September 13