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Club Member: Sharon McNary
Race: Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2008
Distance: Ironman
Race Date: 06/22/08
Submit Date: 06/24/08

Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

June 22, 2008

By Sharon McNary

First the numbers for you bottom-liners. Trials and tribulations to follow.

Overall 1701 of 1942 finishers

2058 registered, 117 DNF

Overall time: 15:09:35


Age group rank 14 of 32

Age group rank exiting swim: 27

Overall 1866

Swim time 1:43:05

Time per 100meters 2:43

T1 17:38

Age group rank for bike: 22

Overall 1825

Bike time 7:37:04

14.7 mph

T2 9:56

Age group rank for marathon: 6

Overall 1340

Marathon time: 5:21:53

12:18 pace per mile


From race registration through the taper

Bike: 2,386 miles

Swim: 59 miles

Run: 820 miles

WEDNESDAY: After a mostly injury-free year, I woke up on Wednesday before the race with a condition I call pretzel-back. I could not lean my head forward, and the entire area from the base of my neck to my shoulder blades was painful. Taper madness? Psycho-somatic pre-race syndrome? Was it real? Or Memorex? Sheez. I had already scheduled a half-hour massage for Wednesday night, so that helped somewhat.

THURSDAY: I arrived in Spokane Thursday to find that Budget car rental had overbooked. They wanted me to taxi into downtown to Dollar to get a car and bill Budget for the excess cost. But there was a 45-minute line waiting for taxis, and the shuttles were booked, too.

I stood with my backpack and two bags of tri gear by the side of the airport exit road with a sign that said, "CdA $25 Gas Money" but nobody picked me up. Funny, that always worked in Bolivia when I was in the Peace Corps.

Then I saw a city bus for downtown, and got on it to go find the alternate car rental place. There was another couple on board doing the same thing, and they agreed to take me to the house I had rented in CdA. Very nice of them, and the $25 was about half what a shuttle would have cost, and one-fourth of what a taxi would have cost.

Finally at race HQ on Thursday afternoon, and reduced to walking the mile between the house and IM village, I spent what was left of my $190 rental car budget on souvenirs. Race jersey ($80), bike bottles ($5 each), coffee mug ($12), string bag ($11), and temp tattoos and assorted sundries.

I changed into swim pants and a tri top and waded into the lake up to the bottom of my rib cage in an exercise of neoprene respect and appreciation. I think the lake temp was about 56 degrees or so. The water was okay on my legs, but took my breath away the closer it got to my lungs.

I meant to pick up my bike from TriBike Transport Thursday, but forgot my pedals at the house, so I left my bike there until Friday. Meanwhile, I called all the storefront chiro places I could find seeking help for my pretzel-back.

FRIDAY: Started the day at a really thorough chiropractor, the first one that called me back. He spent about a half-hour doing heat, adjustments, stretch, deep tissue massage and the back-thumping machine.

I picked up my bike, and started an Olympic-caliber round of pre-race futzing. I rode the bike to a bike shop to buy a lock so that I could leave it at the grocery store so I could buy food for the next few days. I bought what I thought was a small amount of food (yogurt, milk, juice, apples, bananas, brown rice, cereal, mayo -- just the essentials) but then I was shocked when I could barely fit it into my big bike backpack.

It was so heavy, and my back still messed up, that I was afraid to ride my bike the mile back to the rental house. I had this vision of losing my balance while clipped in and falling over, and ruining my race. So I walked my bike home.

Although it was a major carbo-loading day, I neither cooked nor ate the rice. I poured it into a long sock and tied a knot at the end. I heated it up in the microwave to wrap around my neck and heat up my back.

I walked back to IM Village for the athlete meeting, and caught the end of the welcome dinner speeches. I am too paranoid to eat industrial official race food that close to the event, so I cooked for myself earlier. Then I did some interviews with athletes about their Ironman tattoos, current and future, for a possible public radio piece, and returned home.

SATURDAY: Another low-key day. I dropped off my bike and run gear bags, did a reassuringly not-cold wetsuit swim in the lake and spent the rest of the day slamming down as many carb calories as I could.

A couple of Tylenol PM at 7:30 p.m., in bed by 8:30 and I heard the midnight rain storm, but did not regain full consciousness to stress about it until about 3:45 a.m. By then the weather had passed through, and it was looking like a calm, cool and possibly perfect day for racing.


Breakfast was 2 cups of Cream of Wheat hot cereal with 250 calories of maltodextrin powder dissolved into it, and cinnamon sugar crusted on the top. Also a 600-calorie banana, yogurt, strawberry, Emergen-C and maltodextrin smoothie. And a cup of coffee. I also took a half-bagel with me but couldn't choke it down.

At transition, I borrowed a tire pump. I worried about using it, though, because another woman had borrowed it and broke her race tire stem less than an hour before the race, but my set-up is very basic and it went okay.

I put my nutrition on my bike. I had prepared eight 2-ounce knotted baggies full of a mixture of yam, almond butter, honey and the powdered innards of 16 S-Caps for salt and potassium. The rest of my nutrition, Clif gels and a few Nutri-Grain Breakfast Bars -- were already packed into my bike jersey.

I dropped off the special needs bags and got ready to race, all the while trying to stay away from a lot of people and remain calm. At 6:25 when the pro athletes started, it was time to put on my wetsuit, a two-piece DeSoto T1 suit. It's warm, but a bit difficult to strip off.


As I walked toward the entrance chute in my full suit, neoprene cap and rubber swim socks, I spotted a jar of Vaseline left on top of a trash can. I grabbed a handful and put it on my face, hoping it would dull the sting of the cold water. I seeded myself to the far left of the swim start, had time to go swim a few dozen strokes in the lake, and got out to wait for the cannon.

That is when I finally reflected on the past year.

Every waking day I had thought about this challenge. Early in the year, I worried I had been egotistical in signing up for such an ambitious event. When my training approached 8 hours a week, I felt burdened by the time commitment. In the last three to four months, as I got used to training 14, even 18 hours a week, I realized I was surviving and thriving with the volume. I bailed on very few workouts. I threw myself into the things I feared -- the hill rides, the open water bay and ocean swims, the long swim-run bricks.

But then, in all my confidence and with just days to go, my neck and shoulders seized up and threw me into a pit of worry. The four worst days of my training year -- physically and mentally -- were Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

So, waiting on the beach in the back ranks of pink- and blue-capped athletes, the announcer said, "Your dream is about to come true," that is when the emotion of this year finally hit me. I stood and looked out at that cloudy sky and that fearsome lake and just teared up. Another woman looked at me, and she was crying too. Between the two of us, our ages had to be at least 100. We did a mutual high-five, the cannon blasted, near enough to us that we ran through the smoke on the short run into the drink.


This was probably my longest-ever swim, certainly in open water. I had decided to hold to the inside of the course and swim from marker to marker. It wasn't very crowded where I was, holding to the left side of the swim course and swimming inside the bouys. Mostly, I had contact with other people who were off course, or who had slowed in front of me and were upright doing what the swim coordinator called the "sea horse" stroke.

This swim never felt hard to me, however the second lap had more wind and water chop than the first. I and others got pulled slightly off course on the last part of the second loop, but I was able to swim the whole thing steady.

Although I'm not a strong swimmer, I imagine I had an adrenaline, pain reliever and carbohydrate surplus significant enough to make this seem easy. Truly, I felt like I could have gone a third lap.


The two-piece suit, with its extra long arms and legs, was a bit hard to get off. Plus I was moving rather slowly out of the water, slightly woozy. As I walked with my arms full of wetsuit, neoprene cap and booties, cap and goggles, I saw the two hot tubs, set down my gear, and just climbed right in. There were four other guys already in my tub, and apparently they had been there a while. I don't think I stayed for more than a minute, but my T-1 time may indicate I don't have a good grip on the passage of time.

I got out of the hot tub (the announcer called it "athlete soup")and into the changing tent with my T-1 bag. A volunteer individually helped me strip off my clothes and I put on heavy bike shorts, sports bra, L.A. Tri Club tri top, and my club jersey, the pockets pre-packed with gels and breakfast bars.

I asked the volunteer to pour the heated chicken broth I had packed in a Thermos into an empty bike bottle, and with helmet, socks and shoes on, I was on my way to find my bike.

I lost a lot of time here, but it was important for me to regain my balance and footing after the swim. I didn't want to keel over on my bike for the sake of a fast transition.


The bike course was an out-and-back followed by something like a big loop or clover shape. The out and back had a few mild climbs, during which I enjoyed sipping my chicken broth from the bike bottle.

Then there's a nice long flat section, then lots and lots of hills. The downhill grade back into town to complete the first loop had a strong headwind, but nothing as bad as riding back on Pacific Coast Highway with an ocean headwind. Then you do it all over again.

The hills, after the brutal training I had done in the mountains behind Malibu with Liz K. and the L.A. TriChicks, were really a lot of fun. The hills looked tall, and they were long, but nothing like Latigo, or Yerba Buena, or Deer Creek, that go on for miles of grinding lactic acid misery. Lots of people walked their bikes up the hills, especially on the second loop, but I was able to ride the whole thing.

My favorite part of the ride course was pedaling in my top gear downhill as fast as I could, hitting 40 mph flying down in the aerobars, then as the road turned uphill, giving up just one gear at a time, pedaling eight times, giving up another gear click, pedaling eight times, and going through all 20 gears trying to spin over the top of the next hill.

I tried to keep my cadence at 92 in the flats, and my heart rate as low as possible.


One of the reasons I figured I might survivie an Ironman race is the so-called “fourth discipline,” a.ka. nutrition. Complications of diabetes killed my mother at age 53. Because of her struggle, and despite my own weight issues, I’ve always paid attention to what’s in the food I eat. So I was pretty sure I could do well in an eating contest.

For my nutrition, I took a baggie of yam at the top of every hour, a Clif Shot gel or Nutri-Grain bar at the bottom of every hour, and Gatorade Endurance or water every ten minutes. Also a few bites of banana every hour from the aid stations. I was able to stay on top of that pattern for the entire bike, switching to liquid in the last half-hour.

During my longest training ride – a very hot 120-miler in April – I remember stopping at a PCH coffee house at mile 83, ordering a double shot of espresso. I drowned it in half-and-half and drank that thing down in about two minutes. I remember wondering if there was any way I could have something like that in my Ironman race. Then, when in Coeur d’Alene, I stopped into a Starbucks and saw it: a tiny little can of Doubleshot with Cream. Who knew there was such a thing? I had a plan.

The special needs bags were at mile 62, partway into the second loop of the bike. I had packed a small frozen flexible ice pack into a bubble envelope with a frozen Snickers bar and a small can of DoubleShot espresso and cream. What a great treat to stop on the bike, drink down the still-cold mocha. I pocketed the extra bike tube I had in the bag, and rode off. It took me about two miles to eat the entire Snickers bar, and saw other cyclists looking at it as if they wished they had one, too. I figure I got an extra 700 calories with that strategy. I was pretty cheerful for the rest of my ride.


This transition went faster than the first. I had developed a blister where my right little toe rubbed the adjacent toe. Gross, but I popped it rather than run with a full blister.

I changed out of the heavy bike shorts into my little Nike running skirt, and put on my long compression knee socks. I also had a flyweight bike jacket that fit into the back pocket of my tri top along with several gels and some ibuprofen wrapped in foil.


The run went pretty well. It was still brilliant daylight out, I had beaten the 5:30 p.m. bike cutoff by nearly an hour. I started out doing a 5/1 run/walk along the shoreline course and taking in small amounts of the nicely chilled Gatorade, water and the heated chicken broth.

I was able to continue though the first loop, but around mile 12 or so, I started to want to walk more, so I switched to a 3/1 run/walk.

On the second loop some fellow ran up behind me and asked if he could run alongside me. I told him I couldn't be his pacer, that I needed to run my own race. He said, "I will be quiet as a mouse, I just want to run alongside you." I have fallen for that line before when I'm trying to be competitive and it feels like a burden, so I was direct and honest with him, saying, "Sorry, I don't want to drag along any extra weight," and I speeded up to get away. I never looked him in the eye, so I have no idea who it was, whether he was old, young, whatever.

I kept running up on women in my age group and passing them, but then they would pass me when I walked or stopped at a restroom. Sometimes it took me four or more passes to really get past them. I was wearing knee socks, so they probably did not realize I was competing with them, but I ran the sixth fastest marathon time in my age group, rising to 14th of 32 in my age group.

My goal on the run was to go faster than the 12:28 average mile pace for the women last year, and I just barely managed to do that. (By the way, when I am in friendly mode and pacing marathons for other people, that is often the speed that I run for a 5:30 finish. I am happy to know that even though carb up and rest well before pacing, that I could perform well with some advance activities, like a really long swim and bike workout.)

The sun finally set midway through my second lap, it got cold, and it was fairly dark on the course. Often I could not see the asphalt lakeside trail I was on, but it was pretty clean and unbroken, so it was a good surface. I passed lots of people who appeared to be just walking it in. Very few people passed me after about mile 17.

Coming for the last time through one of the neighborhood parties, where they had a big group of teens and a booming sound system, I was suddenly beseiged by this throng of girls. I think they meant to be cheering me, and high-fiving me, but the dissonance between how they felt and how I felt made it seem like an assault, as if they were blocking my way. The light was bad, I was running fast and I really couldn't see past the throng. So I yelled at them to get out of my way, damn it, and I think I scared them a bit. At that point I think I only had about two miles to go.


After a dark last few miles, I turned the corner onto the finishing street and ran past hundreds of cheering people toward the TV light that illuminates the finishing area. I did my version of a swooping airplane as I sped past the bleachers of spectators, and hit the finishing banner with my chest.

For an entire year, I have been imagining what it would be like to hear the announcer shout, "You are an Ironman," but I have absolutely no recall of what he said. I guess at that point, it would have been an obviosity anyway. I know what I did, and how I got there. Still, if anybody knows where I can go to replay the moment, I would be glad to see it.

I had imagined earlier that I would return to the finish and watch people come in until midnight, but the reality was something of an anti-climax. I walked with my finish line concierge to get a t-shirt and hat and photo taken. Once he was assured I was fine (and I was) I hit the pizza tent for two slices of pepperoni, found the old throwaway fleece sweatshirt I have been trying to get rid of for the last year or so (I had dropped on the lawn before the race started never expecting to see it again) and put it on, gathered my gear bags, dropped my bike at TriBike Transport and started the mile-long walk back to the house.

After a block or so, I was able to hitch a ride back home from another couple leaving the race, so I didn't have to do the long "recovery" walk.

For a first IM, I was very happy with my performance. My "stretch" goal was to finish within a half-hour of the median time of finishers in my age group, and in fact, I came about a minute under. All in all, a good day of racing.

Thanks for reading,

Sharon McN

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