Ironman Coeur D’Alene 25 June 2006


I know I said I would never say this again but here goes…


Race day dawned bright and clear….


Actually, this is a gross exaggeration. Race day dawned and even at 5am in the morning it was hot.


By this time I was pretty much prepared for the typical Ironman extravaganza. The bike had been sent to airline oblivion I had cleared USA customs and immigration and I was watching the world cup in a bar in O’Hare Airport in Chicago and trying to explain the offside rule to an American. The latter is slightly more difficult than trying to justify the second Gulf War. However, this perfect preparation was shattered as I moved from an internet terminal only to be greeted by a sharp pain, and horrible grinding noise from my left knee. Shocking really – 4 months of training and two full marathons without injury and I managed to damage myself getting up from a computer!! Having decided to stay in Spokane in Washington State that evening I lay and shivered uncontrollably from some form of viral infection: the Ironman was clearly pretty brittle.


The week ahead however was the usual mix of Ironman frenzy: registration, swim, bike, the odd run, and more commonly spend, spend, spend. Cutting to the chase when I shook of the shakes, coaxed my knee back into some degree of function and then actually reminded myself how to ride a bike I was ready to race. Things were looking up: The Roosevelt Inn put on a pre-breakfast from 5am for those who wanted to train and then the main breakfast at 8am. The owners were great and there was a real range of triathletes staying there from the sublime: Antonio; age 67 aiming to win his age group and qualify for Hawaii to the ridiculous: Murphy; age 39 aiming to get out of bed. There was another Brit called Jonathan Turner who was having the additional challenge of getting married one week later.


So, to come back to paragraph 2. Yes it was bright and clear but it was s*&%$ng hot. We started the swim with the usual rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. This was ironic as the “misty light” was more of a blazing sunshine. The race started in the traditional morass of  kicking, bunching and thrashing as over 2100 athletes + one Murphy surged[1] for the water. The swim was a two lap affair and more or less passed without too many problems. It was fairly choppy and this made for a few problems. I swam, I swam some more and then I guess I did a bit more swimming and dashed out of the water to be greeted by an army of strippers in Transition. Sadly, these were people who were going to strip my wetsuit off rather than take off all their clothes and dance around a table. This was possibly just as well, because after that long in the water, Aphrodite made flesh would have had little effect on many people emerging from the water.

Dashing into the change tent in a flash (not this was nothing to do with stripping the wetsuit) I was off on the bike: this is where the problems arose. The knee problem which arose at Chicago immediately returned and I found myself unable to put more than about 60% of my power through the left leg. This was a problem as I climbed the first hill and realised I was dropping speed quite alarmingly. However, inspired by the Cheer Leader team I pushed harder, hurt harder and managed to pick up pace. The bike course, like the run, was a two lap affair. The first half was hill (with a tail wind) the second half was flat (with a strong head wind). In both cases it was hot and you did it twice. Having improved my swimming skills in the last year I found myself out of the water in a higher position which actually meant more people were passing me on the bike.  However the temperature was rising alarmingly and by the end of the first lap of 56 miles I had had to consume more than 3 litres of water and stopped twice to re-apply sunblock. The second lap became hotter and I got slower, and the day wore on and got hotter and I got slower. One of the aid stations recorded at top temperature of 104oF and I got slower and hotter and slower. By the time I passed the 100 mile mark of the bike course I was suffering nausea (and not just because I had passed two other athletes[2] who were chucking up), my heart rate was fluctuating wildly and I was suffering intermittent shaking. As I coasted into T2 I deposited the bike and trotted into the change tent. There I was greeted by a volunteer with ice water. The look on his face was one of complete bemusement as I scooped the ice out of the cup and put some under my running cap, which I then put on, and then put the rest at groin and armpits to try and cool my core body temperature. Having taken about 10 minutes to do this I set out on the small matter of a marathon to end the day.


I got 20 m. As I started my heart rate shot up to 178 and I stopped to get some cold water sponges to try and cool my body temperature while I walked to the next aid station. Aid stations were every mile and the first 12 miles of the ‘run’ was a walk to the next aid station to pick up more ice. To add insult to injury, I managed to wash off all my sunblock thereby adding hideous sunburn to heat exhaustion. At the 12 mile marker – I broke into a run, my heart soared (as my heart rate only lifted modestly) and I realised a very important fact: running shoes are made for running and walking in them guarantees blisters. The remaining 14 miles was purgatory. The quickest trot of the night was as I crossed the finish line as I was driven by the profound desire to finish. The most horrid day I have had in triathlon taking 15:35:43 to do the 2.4 mile/ 112 mile / 26 mile swim/bike/run course. Desperately disappointing really.


The only consolation was that I still managed to finish and I wasn’t hospitalised. Some 300 or so people cannot claim to be so lucky.

[1] When I say surged, it should be remembered the kind of things that actually surge. In the Navy, submarines are said to be surged when they leave base, glaciers may “surge” down valleys. In neither case is this necessarily considered to be fast. So when I say Murphy surged for the water, you should possibly think glacier* rather than anything else.

* ironic really – glaciers being white and cold – Murphy was neither by the end of the day being hot, red and raw.

[2] And I use the term athlete in my case in the loosest possible sense