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IM Coeur d'Alene 2015: Lava Hot

      By Jason Davidson
          Posted July 2015

When I began working with FeXY Coaching in 2010 my 5 year goal was to Kona qualify. At the time any sane person would have seen that as a total pipe dream. After five years of hard work and steady improvement, however, I felt I was ready to knock on the door at Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

Pre-race: I didn’t know it at the time, but I got lucky in that we had some hot and humid days in Virginia during May and June and I took advantage of them for some pretty hot and humid long runs (17 & 19 milers), some run and bike interval workouts, and a few long rides. If I had known the race was going to be so hot I would have tested more hot weather nutrition and special equipment as well.

Race week: Arrived at site on Monday without incident. The only real glitch was getting my bike together (a total fail in trying to put my bars and headset together) that entailed spending Tues. morning waiting for and stressing about it. I was still able to ride most of the long out and back of the bike course on Tuesday afternoon as planned, however. I was glad for that because it gave me awhile to process the difficulty of the course (in my view way tougher than advertised and definitely tougher than IMLP). I like tough courses but was a bit concerned I would be able to hit the time goals I figured I’d have to make to have a shot at the KQ.

I think it helped coming from the East Coast because I tried to go to bed by 9 and get up between 5 and 6 all week so that I was ready for race morning (not knowing that they would push back the start to 5:45).

The only other thing of note was the drama around whether they would shorten the course because of the heat (forecasts for race day hovered between 104-108F). Coach Shelly did a great job filtering the news for me so I didn't spend lots of energy obsessing. I came to think it was pretty likely because it seemed to be the rational thing to do but when it didn’t come to be, I wasn’t really disappointed. I tried to turn it into a positive by telling myself that no matter how I did the race would be epic. All said, though, I honestly was not very confident of my KQ chances because I just didn’t know how I’d cope with a full marathon in that kind of heat.

Race morning:
With two melatonin I slept from 9:15 to about 1:30 and then was half asleep until 3:30. I had my big bowl of granola and coffee and then headed over to the race site. We got there about 4:45 and I realized I had forgotten my pump. I was very lucky in that a guy a few bikes down was willing to let me use his.

I had intended to do a warmup but was a little short on time so I found my way to what was roughly the 1:05 spot in the lineup and just focused on the moment. I took in my Hammer Espresso gel as I was walking to the start, along with a swig of water. I started to the right (buoys to the left) and was nice and steady for the first 5’ or so to get warmed up. The entire swim was surprisingly low contact. After IMLP I expected lots of congestion on the second loop but I didn’t really have much. I got some initial draft from the pack and then drafted a guy about 2/3rds of the 2nd loop. I did the swim at 80% effort, knowing it was going to be a long hot day. One mistake I made was wearing my long-sleeved wetsuit (despite Coach Shelly telling me to wear the sleeveless!) as about halfway through I could tell I was sweating, even though the water was cool. I was happy with a swim PR, especially given that I hadn’t gone hard, perhaps showing that all my technique work has paid off.

SWIM 1:03:14 25th in AG

Strippers got my wetsuit off very quickly, runners got my bag to me and everything inside went pretty smoothly as I put my sleeveless jersey, socks, shoes and helmet on and ran out to the bike. Ran to the wrong side of the bike rack (totally amateur moment!) but fortunately was near the end of the rack, so it was easy to run around.

Took in a Stinger gel 5’ in and felt good to start. The first lap of the bike was very comfortable temperature-wise, even cool in places. I was initially a bit above my watts target but rode the big climbs pretty easy, again conserving energy for the rest of the day. An initial glitch happened when the first few aid stations didn’t have banana and after that those who did had only one person w/ them and I never got one. I decided to start taking and drinking more Gatorade instead. I think I had about six bottles total, about half of which was Gatorade. I ate my rice cakes and PRO bar as planned and then had a bit of a break before starting on the gels earlier than I normally would (start of 2nd loop). I was also initially taking in Salt Stick tabs every ’45.

At the end of the 1st loop I was on target in terms of average speed and watts. The heat really started to pick up on the 2nd loop. I started to feel a bit off and was wondering if I maybe took in too much salt relative to water, though I was feeling like I couldn’t drink much more. In any case, my reaction was to ride RPE and let the watt target go. This was the strategy Shelly had proposed and I knew she was right and didn’t really debate myself on executing it. After 3 of 5 gels (and 1:30 or so to go) I stopped at a bike aide station and got two gels. So, I took in 6 gels total on the bike (5 w/ caff) after the cakes & PRO bar.

I have to admit that as I slowed down on the 2nd loop I had the thought that the KQ was probably not going to happen. I tried to stay positive and focus on how cool it was going to be to have finished such a crazy race.

BIKE 5:26:15 20th in AG

There was someone to take my bike and get me my bag so I ran into the tent and quickly changed shoes and got my jersey and helmet off and singlet and visor on. The only mistake was when I forgot to apply Body Glide and had to get the bag back from a volunteer.

It was definitely hot at the start of the run but I felt pretty good. I was trying really hard to RPE E pace but still was running low 7 min miles. I think the most important thing all day happened when I got to the first aid station. Shelly had told me the Frodeno method of walking the aid stations in hot conditions. That said, when I got to the first one I had an internal battle because I had been running well and knew it would affect my pace. I made the gut call to stop and walk, thinking that it didn’t make sense to risk the DNF or worse. At every station (except the last one) I walked and dumped ice down my shorts, put more ice in a baggy, and drank water, Gatorade, and Coke (after halfway—when it wasn’t HOT). I was passing lots of people on the first lap and only 1 or 2 passed me but I don’t recall seeing any 40-44 men. It could have been the chaos of aid stations or compression socks, not sure. I ran the big hill at a decent pace the first time up and was blowing past people (as I was up the backside). That was a nice confidence booster but I still had no idea where I was placing wise. As I started back on the flat section along the lake I started to get pretty intense stomach cramps, probably bloating from too much liquid too fast. I had to slow up a bit but tried to ignore the cramps and maintain the fastest pace I could. The cramps were just starting to improve when I saw Christina Tragle the second time (first time she told me "Shelly says to run down the competition like you did at Raleigh"). Having having gotten the word from Shelly, Christina told me I was in 7th place, which I was really happy with. At that point my goal became to just hold steady and not do anything stupid. Turns out 7th would have gotten me a Kona slot.

By the time I got to the halfway point to see my family the cramps were gone. I definitely got a boost from seeing them.

At some point (2nd loop?) I lost track of my gels and took in one fewer than I intended. With all the Gatorade I took in 1 Salt Stick Tab and then took one of the Base containers from their table and hit that maybe 5 or 6 times. Once I got out on CDA Lake Drive for the 2nd loop it was really a war. I tried to lock in a sustainable pace between every aid station and walked the stations, getting liquids and cooling down with the ice. The second time up the hill I was the only person running. When I got to the top I celebrated by stopping to pee. I then hit the turnaround and knew I could get ‘er done. The way back was tough too but I knew that every aid station was bringing me closer to the finish. Finally when I got to the last aid station the first table had ice water and I took it running, drank the water and put the ice down my shorts. I ran as fast as I could the last few miles and really didn’t feel too bad. My legs felt better those last two miles than they had for the last ten at IMLP ‘13.

When I crossed the finish line Alessia said I was in 2nd or 3rd and I said out loud: “That can’t be right!” After I had heard from Christina that I was in 7th I thought the KQ was possible but even then I would never have guessed that I could possibly end up in 2nd and have the fastest run split in my AG.

RUN 3:29:50 2nd in AG

I heard after the race that some in my AG were simply not acclimated to the heat as they came from cold weather locations. I suspect that lots of guys stuck to their cool-weather bike and run game plans until it was way too late to recover. Finally, I think some guys were too focused on racing each other and not focused enough on their own limits.

FINISH TIME 10:07:19 2nd in AG

When you work hard and have success it is easy to think that success came because you worked hard. In bike racing and grad school, I learned that you can work very hard, even harder than your competition, and still not be at the top. I have worked very hard over the past six years to qualify for Kona and am very happy with the decisions I made on race day. In the end, though, my success had a lot to do with factors beyond my control like the conditions and my competition.

Coach Shelly shares a huge share of the credit for my performance. She not only trained me well up to the race, she also provided critical race week—and during race—advice and motivation. My family put up with my training and racing and excessive focus on the KQ. And, for that, they get an extra special trip to the big island of Hawaii.

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