The rest of this week we’ll be featuring the stories of several athletes who, for various reasons, were unable to complete the recent Ironman at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
We find their stories to be truly amazing and in many ways much more inspirational than the stories featured on the Kona NBC broadcast.
You may recall Trish Downing from last year’s Kona coverage or from my recent podcast. Trish Downing, a paraplegic athlete, is the second female wheelchair racer (first female paraplegic) to complete an Iron distance triathlon (Redman Triathlon 2005...finishing time 18:03). She is a member of the physically challenged National Triathlon Team and a pioneer in women’s wheelchair triathlon.
She also competed at IMCDA this year and had to drop out on the bike portion of the race. She is still striving to get the one paraplegic athlete slot for Kona. The ugly swim conditions combined with the hilly bike portion made for a tough day for her.
Here's her race report:
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It’s a place few have been to, and even fewer can spell. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and in fact, when I moved to Spokane, Washington in 1992, I almost didn’t get there because I thought Coeur d’Alene was so gorgeous, I wanted to stop my car and live right by the lake. Needless to say, I’ve spent many days in Coeur d’Alene, as it’s only 30 miles from my former home. I knew I loved the town, but what I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t really love the hills.
The week of the race started out with me waking up with a cold on Monday morning. I had the whole thing…sore throat, stuffy nose, earache, but I thought with just enough AirBorne and Vitamin C, I could fight it off.
I tried to get my rest Monday, but there was lots to do to get ready for Tuesday when my mom and I would head to Montana in our rental van. As Steve and I were packing the van to get ready to go, I realized why I hate flying to triathlons. When all was said and done, the van held nearly $20,000 worth of equipment and if you count every single wheel enclosed (including my everyday chair), I had 14 wheels in my possession. Not to mention all the other luggage that goes with the race.
We drove for about 11 hours that day to Butte, Montana, where we stayed the night and then finished the drive into Spokane, Washington on Wednesday. When we got there, we jumped in the shower to get ready to meet my friends and former co-workers from the TV station for dinner. It was great to see old pals and relive my younger, wilder days. (Thank you Kim and Kathy for
haring my secret exploits with my mother!)
Thursday, my mom and I headed into Coeur d’Alene to check into our condo, do a TV interview and then join the members of the CEO Challenge for a very yummy dinner at the resort. I was at the dinner to represent the Challenged Athletes Foundation and to give a brief overview of the organization. It was a nice couple of hours of relaxation after our busy schedule, but right after dinner we had to head BACK to Washington to pick up Steve and Neal at the airport and then BACK to Idaho to our condo. What we didn’t realize until the sun came back up is what a beautiful spot we had chosen to stay. We were on the forth floor of a brand new condo complex with a balcony overlooking the Spokane River. It couldn’t have been any better.
Friday was spent registering, getting a massage, doing an interview with Ironman TV, going to the race meeting, driving the bike course and welcoming my friends Tracey and Rob who drove over from Seattle to watch the race. On Saturday we checked out the lake in a quick swim, loaded transition and went back to the condo to rest.
So, here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. The actual race…
It was a chilly, windy morning. We arrived at transition about 5:30 a.m. and had to get all my special needs bags to the correct area, air up tires, all the usual stuff. Then we found a nice grassy area to spread out my blanket and begin the tug ‘o war with my wetsuit. As we were putting on my wetsuit (yes, it is a several-person job) the wind started picking up and our things were blowing around and I was shivering like it was 20 below out (I know I’m cold even when it’s in the 80s). Anyway…Neal and Steve carried me down onto the beach where we would wait with 2300 of our closest friends and fellow triathletes for the race to start. But, while we were on the beach, the race
announcer came over the PA to give us warnings about the water since it was like a washing machine. He said it was severly choppy and would be achallenging swim. Then he offered something I would never have imagined. He said that because the water was so crazy, that athletes who didn’t want to do the swim could sit it out and start a bike-run duathlon at 9am.
Then he said, if you get in the water and do a lap and decide it’s enough, you can get out at that point and also just move on to the bike and the run. With that warning, I could only think two things, “wow…that water must be pretty bad” and “you can’t be an Ironman without a swim.” So…we swam. In the ‘olden’ days (three or four years ago to be more exact), I would have stayed
to the back of the pack and tried to swim alone, but I’m much faster now, so Neal and I jumped right in the pack. The only thing was, we got stuck in the middle of a bunch of back-of-the-packers and it could only have been described as chaos.
Usually I think of myself as one of the weaker swimmers out there because of my physical limitations, but in C d’A, I realized that there are a good amount of not-so-good able-bodied swimmers. Who knew? And unfortunately, I got caught up in a big group of them. Neal, who I would say is very mild-mannered, was beginning to lose his patience. Between the two of us, we pushed, paddled and defended against dozens of swimmers until finally we finished the two-lap swim and I came out of the water at 1:47 (ish). (I haven’t checked my exact time). To get from the swim to the
changing tent meant pushing over what seemed like acres of grass and then in the tent I put on a long sleeve shirt (it was still cold outside) and had to push across even more grass to get to transition. With the exception of Chicago, I have never had to cover so much ground just to get from the swim to the transition.
When I got on my bike, I was still feeling fairly optimistic. I knew I wasn’t in great shape because my swim was even slower than Hawaii, but I wasn’t throwing up salt water, so I figured that had me a bit ahead of the game as compared to Kona. I also knew I had a lot of climbing ahead of me.
The beginning of the race was about a 10-mile out and back that went through town and along the lake. Although it had a bit of minor climbing, it was nothing compared to what I had coming ahead. I really had to keep my speed up because I learned in the race meeting the night before that I had to be in from the first loop (56 miles) of the bike by 1:30. Otherwise, I wouldn’t make the time cut. That was different from Kona where they just let you go as far as you can in 10.5 hours and THEN cut you. I was feeling pretty beat from the swim, but the first part of the bike went well. After about 15 or 20 miles though, the whole story changed. I knew there were hills out there, we had driven the course, but they never look as bad from the car. We counted about seven MAJOR climbs (short but steep) from the car, but it seemed when I was out there, that everything was uphill. It reminded me of one of the last training rides I did in Colorado…the Elephant Rock.
That is one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done (and I’ve only done up to the 50-mile ride, never the century), but when I did that ride a few weeks ago, I thought to myself, “there’s no way Idaho is going to be this hard.”
Well…surprise, surprise, it WAS that hard. In fact, on one hill, when I was moving at approximately 2 mph, there was a cyclist at the side of the road, dressed in a racing jersey, but obviously a spectator and not a racer, and he said to me, “didn’t I just see you a couple of weeks ago at Elephant Rock?” I was surprised, a Colorado guy, but all I could say to him was, “yes that was me and this race sucks as bad as that ride!” He just laughed as I pulled away.
It was nice along the route to have some screeming downhills…I think I got up to 35 or 40mph a couple of times, but on the flip side, I also saw my computer register “0” mph once or twice as I inched up a hill. Needless to say, I knew I wasn’t going to make the time cut. The difference in Idaho
however was that I couldn’t have continued after one loop if I wanted to.
My cold was back in full force, I was exhausted and I simply didn’t have anything left in the tank. When I got picked up in Hawaii I was moving at the fastest pace I had gone all day. When I pulled into transition at C d’A, Neal and Steve had to pull like a rag doll from my handcycle, I gave a
farewell interview to the camera that had been following me for the day and I turned in my chip.
It wasn’t the day I was looking for, but it was a much harder course than I had realized or expected. I would definitely say it was harder than Hawaii. Maybe not Hawaii on a super windy day, but just matching course for course, I would say that Idaho is more difficult.
I still had a fun weekend with my friends and beautiful surroundings, but of course finishing would have topped off the experience. I won’t be heading to Hawaii this year, but I have not given up my Ironman quest. I guess it won’t be a bad thing to take a breather, get the wedding planned and executed and plan my next attempt. As for the remainder of the season, I will focus on all races including the Malibu Triathlon, Twin Cities Marathon, and maybe a couple of local triathlons.
Everyday I look at the quote a friend gave me that hangs in my kitchen, “If rising above the ordinary were easy, everyone would do it. It is only those exceptional athletes who train, sacrifice and relentlessly pursue their goals who are able to accomplish the Extraordinary.” I will keep training and EVENTUALLY I know I’ll get there!!