Ironman Coeur d’Alene – A Scorcher in the PNW

I’m baking like a toasted cheeser! It’s so hot here!

Ham Porter, Sandlot

Racing is back, baby!

2020 was a rollercoaster year for staying encouraged to train. All the virtual racing, Zwifting, mock racing scenarios, and training mostly at home was beginning to get mundane. While I stayed fit and achieved some fun personal feats, there were large chunks of time I was just going through the motions. Without an actual race on the calendar since Hawaii 2019, Becca and I decided to do St. George 70.3 (May 1) as our inaugural race to kick off the year. There were many question marks going into this race and we were both very nervous. Was a fit enough? Did I lose my racing edge? Was my wife going to chick me? Was an old man like Dave Tindall going to leave me in the dust? There was no better test than competing at one of the toughest, hilliest races on the North American circuit.

St. George ended up being a fun-filled trip to kick off the year… full of tequila drinking, fiestas, shirtless pictures, and caught up with many triathlon friends. Becca and I both qualified for the 70.3 World Championship in September. Becca was 3rd overall female amateur, which gave her the opportunity to race pro!

Some highlights from our St. George trip:

Over 20 months since my last Ironman, I felt prepared and ready to go as ever to suffer. Ironman racing takes so much mental and physical preparation and I actually think the long hiatus from this distance off made me “forget” how painful they are (a good thing!).

Training went very well for Coeur d’Alene. My training was consistent with no injuries, sicknesses, or setbacks. Most of my cycling was done indoors averaging 10-12 hours of ride time/week, swam 15,000-18,000 yards/week, and ran 50-60 miles/week during my peak training block. My longest ride was 128 miles; longest run was 24.2 miles; and I did a few 2.4 mile open water time trials in my lake to prepare. My key session was a seven-hour training day where I swam 2.4 miles in our lake at race pace, ran eight miles at steady state, rode four hours at IM intensity, and ran eight miles at Ironman race pace.

Leading up to the race, it was announced there would be 200 Hawaii slots up for grabs at Coeur d’Alene. Typically Ironman events only have 40-50 World Championship slots. Although I knew I had a really good chance to qualify, it never gave me the notion to sandbag and finish less than my best. When I sign up for Ironman qualification races, I am always willing to go deep into the well for the best performance possible.

Becca, Uncle Derek, and Clare were my in-person support team. They are very experienced sherpas by now and know exactly what I need to perform at my best. Derek and Becca have both raced this course in the past so it helped they had good knowledge of the course layout. All meals were cooked at home by chef Becca; Clare brought expensive wine; and Derek brought his calmness and positive energy.

Thanks team!

We stayed at an Airbnb at Twin Lakes, about 35 minutes away from downtown Coeur d’Alene. It was a quiet, secluded cabin on the water… away from all the craziness.

We watched Babe on VHS for some pre-race motivation. That’ll do pig, that’ll do. Becca was definitely into this flick.

Race week, I started looking at the weather forecast and knew we were in for a doozy. Temperatures were predicted to reach 100 degrees on race day. On top of that, our Airbnb did not have air conditioning. We tried frozen water bottles in front of the fans, put wet towels over my head and body, and took many cold showers. There was no way to escape the heat, but at least my Garmin was telling me I was getting heat acclimated.

On a positive note, living without air conditioning allowed me experience the temperature swings throughout the days leading up to the race. With a race start of 5:35 AM for age groupers, I knew it wouldn’t get really toasty until the later portion of the bike.

Race day:

2:45 AM wake up, scarfed down my usual pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, and hit the road. We drove two vehicles just in case I forgot something.

After pumping up my tires, loaded my nutrition on the bike, and set up my transition area, I felt calm, collected and ready to go. Although I was nervous, I knew I was mentally and physically prepared for the grueling day ahead. I gave Becca a farewell kiss as I headed to the swim chute to warm up.

Swim:

Coeur d’Alene was a straight forward, rectangle, two-looped, counterclockwise course. The age group swim was seeded based on predicted swim finish time. I lined up in the first corral, sub-60 minute group, about 50 people from the very front. They only allowed three competitors to start at a time, so I didn’t begin my race until three minutes after official gun sounded. In hindsight, I wish I would have started a little further ahead as I feel like I could have found faster feet.

The first loop was non-eventful. The water temperature was a comfortable 68 degrees. There was a bit of chop but I found a good draft from a couple female competitors a few hundred yards into the swim. I did not not feel like I was working very hard but the moment I tried to surge and catch the next swimmer ahead, we ended up swimming side-by-side. I ended up dropping back and settling into their draft again.

I glanced at my watch after the first loop as we had to get out of the water to cross a timing mat. 28:38… right on track.

The second loop was a lot more congested and I experienced a lot more contact, mostly due to navigating through the slower swimmers. I lost my swimming buddies for a while, but their pink caps were easy to spot and I surged to get back on their feet.

Swim time: 58:37 (1:23 pace), 9th AG

T1: 1:01. Unlike all the other Ironman races I’ve ever done, IMCDA was the first race without run and bike bags. Instead, it was a traditional transition area where you put all your gear for the day next to your bike. With a field of 2,100 athletes, this place was going to look like a homeless shelter post race! I was racked close to the bike out, so I opted to put my shoes on at my transition area instead of risking nutting myself doing a flying mount.

Bike:

The course consisted of two out-and-back loops with approximately 2,800 feet of climbing per loop. Each loop consisted of three notable climbs. I taped the elevation profile to my handlebars, noting the mile markers of the start and end of each climb. This cheat sheet really helped especially as it got HOT and I started to tire a bit later in the ride.

I felt like I stayed within myself the entire ride, never spiking my efforts or rode like a hooligan. My AZ buddy, Kevin Coyle, caught me on the first loop. I remember him being a strong cyclist during my Arizona racing days. I let him go at first but was surprised when I saw myself slowly riding up to him over the next several miles. I made sure to keep my 12-meter distance from him, but used him as motivation for pacing for a large portion of the remaining bike leg. Thanks Kev, I owe you a beer!

It got pretty desolate out there and the field seemed very strung out after the first loop of the bike. I tried counting the people ahead of me, but knew I was somewhat towards the front-end of the amateur field.

It started to get hot around three hours into the bike. Every climb seemed like I was riding in an oven. I flipped my visor up to let as much airflow pass through my helmet. I wore a Giro Advantage 2 helmet with very limited ventilation. I also wore an all-black tri kit, so maybe I’m just a moron.

I grabbed as many water bottles as I could at each aid station to soak myself down, drink, and refill my aero bottle. I felt like my nutrition was right on point and exactly what I practiced in training. I ate Power Gels, Honey Stinger Waffles, and Tailwind drink mix, aiming for 200-250 calories an hour. I also took a couple licks of Base Salt every 15 minutes.

The hottest part of the ride reached 102 degrees at the tail end of the bike. At this point I was baking like a toasted cheeser. My power definitely dropped off slightly the 2nd loop of the bike, but I never felt like I was fading. It was more of a conscious effort to stay conservative. I constantly reminded myself to hold back as I knew the run would be a blood bath.

Bike time: 5:16:42 (21.22 MPH), 13th AG

T2: 3:06. I spent time to put on compression socks, slipped on my shoes, and had everything else in a separate plastic bag with my sunglasses, headband, and nutrition I put on while running.

Run: I immediately saw Becca starting the run and she told me I was in 13th. I’m used to being down off the bike by substantial gaps, so I was in familiar territory. Time to make magic happen.

The run course consisted of three loops. It was mostly rolling terrain with no significant climbs. Running through the neighborhoods and seeing all the spectators and locals in this area is always the highlight of racing in Coeur d’Alene. Plus, a lot of this area was shaded and many of spectators had their sprinklers running and non-race supported aid stations set up. I had a constant dose of water gun squirting, sprayers, misters, and hoses to keep cool in this section.

It felt really warm and I knew my goal of a sub-3 hour Ironman marathon was likely not going to happen. I wasn’t feeling great, but I remember my past coach always telling me: “You don’t have to be feeling good to have a great race.” I mostly ran off of feel and heart rate throughout the run. I’ve trained with heart rate for years and I know exactly when I am over-exerting myself. For the most part I disregarded any kind of pacing strategy. The goal for the day was just to keep the feet moving and keep the core body temperature down as much as possible.

After loop one, I saw Becca, Derek, Clare and they informed me everyone in my age group was running similar splits. I moved up four positions and was currently sitting in 9th.

I shuffled or walked through most aid stations continuing to soak myself, grab as much ice as possible, and collected Maurten gels to throw at Becca.

Shit hit the fan for a bit around mile 10 when I suddenly felt extremely nauseous. The run segment along the path next to the lake seemed brutally hot with limited shade and aid stations spaced a little farther apart. I stopped in the shade under a tree to vomit. I closed my eyes for a few seconds and thought about the words of wisdom from my father: You didn’t think this would be easy, did you?

It was puke and rally time.

From past Ironman experiences, I know there will always be several major highs and major lows throughout the day. This is what I love about the Ironman distance. It truly tests your character. While it would be so easy to give up during moments of adversity, I remind myself I did not train hard to just walk it in.

I rebounded starting with a slow shuffle and felt a lot better after I soaked myself with cold water at the next aid station, drank some Coke, and poured as many cups of ice down my suit. I also started to hold ice in my mouth and hands. I managed to pick up my pace again and was back in my groove.

Towards the end of the 2nd loop, I approached Lionel Sanders. I have major respect for the guy gutting it out even though he was having a rough day. I had the mental capacity to tell Becca to run ahead of me with her GoPro and take footage of me giving him bunny ears. He must have heard Becca shout my name because he briefly glanced at me and said “Good job Elliot.” Classic.

Beginning the final loop, Becca informed me I was now in 6th. I remember her telling me, “I don’t know what you’re doing but keep it up! 4th and 5th are just ahead!”

I was experiencing some calf cramps for a while and I had to stop to stretch out a few times. It didn’t feel like I was running very fast the entire day, but no one was passing me and I was witnessing people really starting to fade ahead. It was carnage out there.

Mile 22, I saw 4th and 5th just ahead of me. I know Jason Lentzke from my Arizona racing days and knew he was a solid racer. I’ve also seen Tommy de Bruhn (EMJ Team) tear it up at races this year and have the utmost respect for him. It gave me a lot of confidence and motivation making the catch as I was around some very accomplished company. I knew with a half hour left of racing, anything could happen. Hold it together, I said out loud.

I was in pretty rough condition at this stage of the race. I threw up again with about two miles to go and felt like my left calf was going to give out at any moment. I walked the final two aid stations to cool myself down and sipped on Coke to give me that final surge of energy to get to the finish line.

As I made the turn to the finish and onto Sherman, I glanced back and saw Jason and Tom just behind. The final stretch of the marathon is along the infamous Sherman Avenue and slightly downhill. I gave it my all as I hit the red carpet, glanced back one last time, and crossed the line. “Elliot, police officer, from Auburn, Washington… you are an Ironman!!!”

Due to the staggered swim starts, Jason and Tommy both started the race approximately two minutes after me. Thus, they virtually finished ahead of me. I don’t think I could have gone any faster, even having known this information in the later stage of the race. The tracker briefly had me at 4th place (a podium position at Ironman events) but seconds later was bumped to 6th.

I would have likely missed out on Kona if this would have been a 40 slot race. Thankfully they were giving Kona slots out like candy so I knew I had Hawaii in the bag despite my positioning. For future staggered start races (all non-championship WTC races) I need to acknowledge that I may not be in the lead despite making a pass. Age group racing is truly a self-timed time trial and I cannot rely on my physical positioning on the course.

Run time: 3:18:51, 6th AG, 2nd fastest run split in AG

Overall Time: 9:40:21, 12th overall amateur

The mens 35-39 age group race was extremely competitive. I thought I had left the competition at M30-34 but everyone seems to just be getting faster. The overall age group winner was in my age group and he torched us all finishing in 8:45!

  1. Andrew Hall – 8:45:01
  2. Michael Hill – 9:13:04
  3. Matthew Raske – 9:38:32
  4. Tom De Bruyn – 9:39:18
  5. Jason Lentzke – 9:39:43
  6. Elliot Kawaoka – 9:40:21
  7. through 10. – 9:50:32, 9:53:04, 9:53:07, 9:56:40

It’s crazy how the top 12 guys in this age group cracked 10 hours in these scorching conditions. Based on the stats on the Ironman website, roughly 1,500 of the 2,100 participants finished the race (~28% DNF rate). Coeur d’Alene showed me the dark and savage side of racing. While it was far from a personal best time, I overcame obstacles (especially on the run) which defines my character and the way I like to live my life… all or nothing, no excuses, 100% effort, and a never quit mentality.

The volunteers must have known I was finishing because they had a wheelchair waiting upon crossing the finish line. Miraculously, after a short rest I was able to limp back to my air-conditioned car and avoided the medical tent. #winning

It was so great to be back racing and doing what I love. I’m excited to do “the double” (70.3 and Ironman Worlds in September and October) for the first time. Dealing with that insane heat and being able to fight through some major hurdles throughout the day gave me confidence I can have a decent race in warm races.

Thanks for the cheers and messages from people tracking near and afar. I’d like to give a shoutout to all the volunteers and locals who always seem to welcome the athletes with open arms and support the racers as much as possible. I would also like to give a very special thanks to Becca, Derek and Clare for enduring the heat and supporting me on this trip. I could not do this alone and I’m extremely grateful I have an awesome family who understands and supports this crazy hobby.

There was a feeling of normalcy among the athletes, volunteers, and spectators during this entire race experience. Downtown foot traffic was heavy, locals in the surrounding neighbors were cheering loudly and having fun, restaurants were busy, and Sherman Avenue was rocking. The spirit of triathlon and Ironman racing is back, baby!


My race recap video brought to you by Becca “TCox” Kawaoka.

Thanks for reading everyone!

EK

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Categories: Race Report, Races

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One Comment on “Ironman Coeur d’Alene – A Scorcher in the PNW”

  1. July 2, 2021 at 11:14 am #

    awesome work man. the amount over 3hrs is tied to the heat. i was in 3:25 shape and went 3:54. Awesome seeing you again. See you in Kona!!! Lets do dinner!!!

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