I DNF’d (did not finish) my first Ironman. It hurts. Real bad. It’s like this deep sadness that touches everything from my heart to the pit of my stomach. Those of you that have experienced the same thing know what I’m talking about. If you have never experienced it, then you should be very grateful.
Long story short, my #1 fear of my Top 5 Ironman fears came true, and I didn’t make the swim + bike cutoff of 10:30 hours.
I’m trying to remain positive, though, and not give up. With that, here is my very detailed race report of 2012 Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
I woke up race morning feeling fresh and ready, trying to stay calm. I looked at my checklist that I had made for the morning.
– Take meds
– Eat breakfast
– Drink pickle juice
– Grab 3 water bottles and frozen nutrition
– Grab GPS watch from charger
– Grab special needs bags
I ate my pre-race meal of 2 Eggo waffles with peanut butter and Nutella, and water. As usual I didn’t feel like eating, but I took it down anyway.
Team WODS arrived at transition sometime before 5:30am. I heard Mike Reilly making announcements on the mic. Excitement stirred within me, but I remained quiet. The four of us temporarily split up to take care of our own needs. I went to move around some of my nutrition from T1 bag to bike, took off the rain covers (it rained over night), and went to drop off Team WODS special needs bags. Jeremy and I ran into his mom, Kyle, and Danielle, so they went with us for that part.
When I got back from dropping off our bags, I ran into Mike Reilly and asked him if he saw my tweet. “Asia Simonelli?” he asked. He almost had it right! I corrected him on the pronunciation of my tricky last name, said I’d see him at the finish line, and thanked him.
Nicole and Mike brought their own bike pump which was a great idea because the line to put air in your tires was really long. Mike pumped my tires for me. (Thanks, Mike!) I can do my own, but it is really tough for me to hit 110lbs when that is more than I weigh. After finalizing my nutrition arrangements, Jeremy and I got into our wetsuits, I made a quick bathroom stop (the lines weren’t too bad once you left the transition area), and then we tried to find my parents. I had a peanut butter GU and some water. I never found my family before the start, but I knew where they would be once I finished the swim.
THE SWIM: 1 hour 47 minutes
It takes a while to get to the swim start because you have to cross a timing mat across a narrow beach entrance so they know how many people are starting the race. (18% of people who signed up for this race did not start.) We were still with the slow-moving pack of triathletes when the national anthem began. I had my earplugs in and neoprene cap on for 3 swim caps total, so I couldn’t hear much of anything, which kept me calmer than usual. Jeremy and I finally got to the beach and kept walking towards the right. I was told far right was the most conservative place to start the swim without getting trampled, and I would naturally drift with the pack back left towards the buoys. By pure luck, we ran into Nicole. She told us that Mike was in the center of it all, so Jeremy kissed me goodbye and went to start with him. Nicole and I were never planning on starting together since she is much faster than me, but she felt more comfortable starting in my area and swimming around the slow people. We exchanged a few nervous words before the cannon went off at 7:00am. There wasn’t much of a build up to that point because it all happened so quickly.
We started walking to the water (I told you these were the less hardcore people), and I reminded Nicole to put on her goggles. They were still on her head! We said something like “see you out there” and went about our own ways. I even had time to let a little bit of water into the front of my wetsuit and blow one round of bubbles to try to acclimate to the water before fully plunging into the 57 degree lake for what turned out to be a very long swim.
The first lap of the swim was crowded, but not as bad as I had expected. My main problem was my breathing. It felt laborious and shallow. I remember thinking “do I need my inhaler?” several times, but I kept telling myself that I was fine. I never need my inhaler during a swim, so I would be ok. My heart rate was just really high from the shock of the cold water. I also remember thinking that I would prefer not to do this kind of mass swim start again. I was sick of people running into me! I was only punched in the head once, but I think constantly getting swam into and sometimes on top of was more irritating. I was also annoyed with the people who decided to stop for no reason because I kept bumping into them. The good thing was that once I started swimming, I didn’t feel scared about the day ahead anymore.
All things considered, I think I did a good job of just keeping my head down and swimming. Normally I’m tempted to sight a lot, but being around so many swimmers, I felt ok with just following the pack. Probably not the best idea, though, because I continued to stay really wide and accidentally swam too far past the red buoy where I was supposed to make a left turn! I faintly heard voices on a megaphone in the distance and I guessed it was from the boats telling us to turn around. I started sighting more frequently after that. It was then that I also got into my rhythm and felt my breathing relax.
As I was swimming into the beach, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to get out to begin lap two. Then I saw it. A big red arch. I was so happy! I swam a little harder, kicked my legs more, and finally made it to shore. A volunteer shouted 46:20, and my watch confirmed. I was right on track to come in around 1:30 hours. A smile crossed my face. I took my time getting back into the water. No one else seemed to be running, and I didn’t feel the need to either. I was trying to keep my heart rate low.
Lap two is when everything changed. I thought that I would be the same speed or a little faster because I was going to swim up against the buoys and not waste time missing my turn, but Mother Nature had something else in mind. Little did I know the winds were picking up, and the lake turned evil and choppy. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere, like I was swimming in slow motion. I was going up and down, up and down with the swells, and I kept inhaling lake water. I mouthed “Where the f*ck did this come from?” more than once under water. This swim turned out to be the toughest swim I’ve ever had.
I was relieved to find the red buoy marking my turnaround, but this was when the water was roughest. I stopped swimming 2 or 3 times because I was having trouble seeing buoys or swim caps and wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction. Plus, I kept choking. Every time I stopped, though, my legs wanted to cramp, so I quickly started swimming again. Once I finally made the two left turns, I mentally told myself that I was on the home stretch of the swim. My mind wasn’t buying it, though. I couldn’t stop thinking about how cold I was. This was the first time I noticed I was cold…really, really cold. I couldn’t close my fingers together so I felt like I had two bear claws for hands, and I was shaking as I was swimming. I kept telling myself to remain tough. That this wasn’t supposed to be easy. I pictured the warming tent on shore. I decided right then and there that I was going to reward myself with time next to the heat lamp. I think I whimpered into the water a couple of times because I was so cold. I tried to pee in my wetsuit to warm myself up, but I couldn’t relax enough. I remember asking myself if I should stop at one of the kayakers and rest for a minute, but there would have been no point. It would have only made me colder. Finally, I located the red swim exit arch and swam harder, engaged my legs to get the blood flowing again, and stood up on shore.
I looked down at my watch, and what I saw completely confused me. 1:47. My watch must have been broken. 1:47? I started walking sideways, and a volunteer put me back on track. I heard Mike Reilly call my name. I saw a photographer but forgot to smile. My eyes finally found my family in the bleachers, but I only remember seeing my mom. I forced a smile, waved, said I was really cold, (she said I know), and I tried to hug myself for warmth. I’m guessing this was all at a snail’s pace. No one around me was running after being in the cold water for that long.
T1: 17 minutes
I saw the wetsuit strippers and took off my ear plugs and plethora of swim caps as I walked over to them. They unzipped me, told me to sit down on the ground and tried to pull my wetsuit off me. Instead, I literally went flying across the grass from the force of their pull. “You’re so small!” they said. “Put your hands on the ground!” They had more success the second try, handed me my things, and told me to collect my T1 bag and head to the changing tent. For a split second I thought about going to the warming tent first, but I was worried about the time, so I didn’t. For the first time, I started running.
I easily found my bag, ran around three women walking in front of me, and stumbled into a chair in the dark changing tent. I called over a volunteer and gave her my list. She disregarded the list and proceeded to undress me. I literally couldn’t do anything to help. I was shaking uncontrollably, and I cried a couple of times into my towel. I’m not sure why. Each time I quickly stopped pouting, though, and reminded myself to be tough. I had survived the swim! The bike would be much warmer. I tried putting on my winter gloves to temporarily warm my hands, but my fingers wouldn’t cooperate. I also tried to put on my heart rate monitor to speed things up, but couldn’t fasten it, so I called over a second volunteer to help. I should have done this earlier because my transition was taking forever! I had no concept of time in there, though.
I finally left the changing tent and was greeted by the sunscreen team. “Sunscreen?” they asked. I literally just stared at them blankly, not saying a word. “Well you look pretty covered up. We’ll just put some on your neck and behind your ears.” Then, “Do you need a hug?” I was given a hug, a pep talk, and then sent on my way. I almost started crying when she hugged me. I was a wreck in T1!! I took a quick pee in the port-a-potty, and then ran to my bike. There weren’t many bikes left, and a volunteer took it off the rack and handed it to me. I asked him to pull up my left sock because I noticed it was falling, and I didn’t want to get a blister. (I’ve made that mistake before, and finished with a bloody ankle.) I took my bike, and jogged to the mount line. I got on my bike and realized I was sitting on my bib. Fail. I got off my bike and rearranged my belt, and got back on my bike. I saw my Aunt Joanne saying “Come on Asia! Let’s go!” I think I told her I was stuck. Oh boy was I happy to get out of the disaster that was T1.
THE BIKE: 7 hours 5 minutes / DNF
IMCDA sported a new bike course this year. I was excited about it because it was “less technical” which meant less sharp turns for me, a huge plus for a novice on a tri bike. It definitely wasn’t any easier, though, and it boasted 4,600ft of climbing. Many repeat athletes said the bike course was harder this year. The average times were slower in 2012 vs. 2011, that’s for sure. Either way, I knew I was going to be in for a long day on the bike, and my goal was to come in around 8 hours, giving me about 25 minutes of “cushion” before the bike + swim deadline of 10:30 hours. That cushion was a little too close for comfort.
My plan was to average about 14mph on each loop of the bike. This is around what I average on our really long, hilly bike rides at home, (sometimes slightly under), so I figured I could maintain it or even exceed it. I surprised myself at Oceanside 70.3, so maybe I would at Ironman Coeur d’Alene too.
It took me a while to get warm on the bike, and I eagerly sipped on water for the first 30-40 minutes since I had a dry mouth. Then I made myself start eating, even though I wasn’t really in the mood, and I felt slightly nauseous. I finished a 255 calorie Bonk Breaker bar about 1.5 hours into my ride, and then proceeded to rotate through the rest of my nutrition, including a 400 calorie bottle of CarboPro mixed with GU Brew, an Uncrustable, and another Bonk Breaker Bar.
Body wise I had some aches and pains. The lower right side of my back felt strained for the entire swim, and that carried over to the bike. My left shoulder hurt after the swim, and it was uncomfortable to be in the aero position. My left ankle also hurt, which I thought was odd because I still have no idea how that happened. All of these pains were minor and easy enough to push through, though. I just wanted to note them.
Each loop of the bike course is divided into two sections. The first section is the easier part, and it mirrors part of the run course. This is about 16 miles. It definitely isn’t all flat, but it’s nothing like the massive hills on the second part of the loop. I felt fine on this section and was eager to pass through town again to see my family. I somehow missed everyone, though, and headed out for the second part of the loop which takes you on highway 95. Holy hills. I gauged everything by effort instead of speed and heart rate.
The first part of the new section of the bike course was slow going for most. I was already at the back of the pack but managed to stay with my group. I passed some on the uphill and was passed on the downhill. A leapfrog game of sorts. The long hills and headwinds took a lot of effort, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing it too hard. (I was told after the race from my friends that there were strong headwinds. I had no idea I was battling those on the course. I just thought I was slow, and I’m pretty used to the wind pushing me around.) I climbed some of the smaller hills in aero, but I had to get up and change positions several times. My shoulder was nagging me, and it felt better when I wasn’t in aero, so I would play little games with myself and only allow myself out of aero on the bigger climbs.
I saw Jeremy for the first time on the other side of the road, and he cheered so loudly for me, and gave me a fist pump. He was definitely excited to see me! That made me laugh and smile. I eventually saw Nicole too which was so nice! I could see that they were both very far ahead of me, but I was mentally stupid and couldn’t figure out exactly how far.
The turnaround on highway 95 was the best part because I knew it would be a lot easier on the ride back into town. I got off the bike at the mile 50 aid station, used the bathroom, refilled my water bottles and CarboPro, ate an Uncrustable, and was on my way again after around 5 minutes of stopping time, but maybe longer. I don’t have a good concept of time during races.
Loop 1 took me just over 4 hours, and I was happy to see I was right on track to hit my prediction of 8 hours on the bike when I arrived into town sometime between 1:05-1:10pm. (Loop #1 cutoff is 1:30pm. They will stop you and take away your timing chip if you arrive after that.) Then things got interesting.
I had about 4:20 minutes to make a full loop #2 within the 10:30 hour total swim + bike time. With that in mind I was relieved as I hit mile 56 and passed through downtown, happy to see my family again. Things quickly went downhill after that. I noticed other cyclists starting to pass me…quickly. I had slowed way down, and my legs didn’t want to go any faster. As I was headed out for the “easy” part of the bike course, I found myself getting passed. A lot. Apparently I had slowed way down, but my legs just didn’t want to go any faster. I wasn’t monitoring my heart rate, but I could see my speed, and it sucked. I think was doing 13mph on the false flats. Way too slow! I think it took me a while to realize what was happening, though. I was confused as to why so many people were passing me. Maybe they were just really slow swimmers who were fast on the bike? When I began to realize that I was racing the clock, I didn’t stop at special needs or get off my bike again. I began calculating the miles I needed to be at in order to arrive back into town by the 5:30pm bike #3 cutoff. I had made bike cutoff #1 by arriving into town before 1:30pm the first time, but I couldn’t remember what the second bike cutoff was for the life of me! I saw my family one more time as I passed through town, shot them a smile even though I was completely stressed, and headed out onto the challenging and slow-moving part of highway 95 again.
There weren’t many people left on the course at this point, and it became pretty lonely. If you’ve never been with the back of the pack on the bike course, let me assure you that it’s very spread out. There are a few perks like no lines for bathrooms and the ease of passing people since the course isn’t congested. Those are about the only perks I can think of, though. Otherwise it’s just stressful because you are racing the clock.
I was attempting to recap my time on the bike up until this point. Nutrition was good. Hydration was normal. Pace was good on loop #1. What was going wrong? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do believe a lot of factors played into my sluggishness on loop #2.
An overweight guy in his 30s passed me up one of the hills and said “Two snails climbing up the hill!” I wasn’t amused. I wanted to talk to people, so I started asking if anyone knew when the second bike cutoff was. We were all in danger of it, so I figured someone would know. Finally, a Team in Training girl around my age said she thought it was 4pm at mile 90. This was not good. I asked if she was sure…then I started asking others. If this was the case, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. This was around mile 83 or so. I tried to do pickups with my legs, and I would get little bursts of speed every now and then, but the hills and headwinds prevented me from cycling at my top speed. Dark thoughts started to enter my mind. “I guess if they stop me now, I won’t have to sit on this stupid slow bike course any longer. Maybe it’s for the best.” Then I would tell myself to remain positive. Think like Chrissie Wellington. And I would imagine myself crossing the finish line. That made me feel good, but then I had to bring it back to the present and really focus on getting my speed and cadence up on the bike.
Sometime before this, I saw Jeremy almost finished with his second lap, cheering me on. I simply said “This is hard.” He said “I know baby. Just keep trying!” I did. Then I saw Nicole and we exchanged helios. Little did I know that she saw them closing the aid station behind me, and she was concerned I wasn’t going to make the bike cutoff.
The Team in Training girl kept saying “We’re going to make it! We’re going to make it!” As we went further along, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t going to happen, so I said “Yeah! I hope so!” and pedaled on. When I approached the last aid station before mile 90, a man to the side who looked a lot like Mike Reilly in my mind said “I’ll see YOU at the finish line! Let’s go!” I must have been delusional because I thought that I had made the bike cutoff! My spirits lifted. I smiled. I imaged myself crossing that finish line again, and I thought about what I would say to Jeremy when I learned I was the last person to make the second bike cutoff. That joy was short-lived, though.
As I rode past the 90 mile marker and approached the u-turn, I saw a group of people, bikes, and trucks stopped ahead of me. The turnaround point was barricaded so I couldn’t cross the timing mat. I slowed to a stop, and a volunteer said something to me that I couldn’t understand. What did he mean I had arrived too late? I tried to convince him that I could make it back into town before the 5:30pm bike cutoff because it was mostly downhill. “No you can’t, and no it’s not” he said. It was 4:10pm. I had missed the bike cutoff by 10 minutes. I literally just stood there speechless and in shock, holding my bike. At one point I cutely threatened to bike back if he didn’t remove my timing chip, and he told me the road was closed. There were already about 15-20 people who were stopped ahead of me, and another 5-10 that came in behind me. One girl was silently crying, but everyone else seemed to be handling it ok for some reason unbeknownst to me. Then it all hit me, and I started crying uncontrollably. I wasn’t going to become an Ironman that day.
I asked a woman if it was her first Ironman and she said no. When I told her it was mine, I just couldn’t stop crying, and she really felt bad for me. Everyone did. The woman gave me her name, phone number, and email address and told me to come do Ironman Canada with her. The water was warmer, she assured me, and the bike course less hilly. I thanked her, not knowing what I would be doing after this. I had never planned on doing a second Ironman.
I called my dad and left him a message asking him to pick me up in transition. One of the volunteers quickly put me in a car, even though there was no space for my bike, probably because I wouldn’t stop crying. I was with 2 men and 1 woman who looked to be in their 40s-50s. It was none of their first Ironman, but one of them told me that he also DNF’d on his first one, so he knew how bad it felt. They told me this was the hardest bike course they’d ever encountered, and a very rough cold swim. It didn’t make me feel any better. I just wanted to finish. I knew I had it in me to keep going. I may not be fast, but I have a lot of endurance, and I love to run. Why wouldn’t they let me RUN? I didn’t need 6:30 hours to finish a marathon! Who cares if I came in a few minutes after 5:30pm?? But these are the rules of Ironman, and I knew about them when I signed up. No use in complaining.
It took volunteers an hour to get me back to transition to meet up with my family. I found my parents, hugged my mom, and cried. She told me it was ok, and that everyone was very proud of me and that I was still an Ironman to them. I stopped crying and slowly walked to pickup my transition bags and change clothes. (I selected a mixture of morning clothes fleece pants and my lonely run top.)
I told everyone that I HAD to do another one. I didn’t finish, so this seemed like the only logical thing to plan for next. I also complained about the thousands of dollars I had spent to get this far, only not to finish, but I was constantly reminded that I DID do something significant that day. I made it to the start line of an Ironman! I tried to remain positive because it was the only thing that was making me feel better.
Then I did what any mature adult would do in this situation and went to the cantina for a beer. I started explaining what happened to my parents, Jeremy’s mom, and his brother and girlfriend. I smiled and laughed for the first time during that conversation. I had a few chips and salsa. Then we found out that Mike had just finished! Crap! I was worried I might miss him cross the finish line because he is super fast. I guess those 2 hours between my DNF and Mike crossing the finish line went by quickly. With that, we went out to secure our spots at the finish line and wait for Jeremy and Nicole – the rest of Team WODS.
I was told that Jeremy was looking good coming out of T2, but that he was starting to hurt after the first half marathon. Immediately all of my focus was put on tracking Jeremy and Nicole, and waiting for them to cross the finish line. I wasn’t going to cry anymore. Not until I was alone, anyway.
I spent over two hours watching triathletes cross the finish line and become an Ironman. You probably think this was very hard for me. For some reason, it wasn’t. I was happy to high-five total strangers and encourage those that were struggling. It only made me want to get out there and try again. You see, I didn’t get to experience the real pain in the Ironman. Sure I had struggled on the swim and bike, but a lot of people say you don’t really know what you’re made of until you hit the marathon of the Ironman. I wanted to know what I was made of, so I started thinking about all the races left in 2012 and wondering which ones weren’t sold out yet.
Waiting for Jeremy and Nicole felt like a really long time, and I started to feel crappy. I ate a banana and drank a bottle of water. I wasn’t doing the best job of recovering after my 93 mile day, but they don’t invite the non-finishers into the food party where all the fuel was that I needed.
I’m glad I got a little taste of what it’s like to be a spectator in this sport. It’s stressful and makes for a very long day. I truly appreciate all the support we had on the course. I saw that Jeremy’s third 10k split was at a walking pace, so I tried to manage expectations of when he would cross the finish line. Nicole was still holding 12:30 min/mile at the toughest part, so I guessed that Nicole would come in first, and she did because she passed him towards the end of the run.
Nicole came down the finish chute first. She ran over to me, gave me a very brief sad face to see me on the sidelines, and then perked up again for her moment of fame. Jeremy came a few minutes behind her. Here is a YouTube video of his finish. When he saw me, he looked back to blow me a kiss.
It was a very odd feeling watching both of them cross the finish line. All along I had planned to be the last one to finish, and was looking forward to seeing the rest of Team WODS cheer me across the finish line. Even though it was reversed and I was unintentionally done first, I was so happy for my teammates as they each earned the title of Ironman that day.
June 24, 2012 wasn’t my day. Quite a few factors played into my DNF, and I need to take the time to fully analyze them so I can be better prepared for Ironman #2. Yes, that’s right. There will be a second Ironman. And I WILL FINISH!
Ironman Coeur d’Alene may have gotten the best of me, but now the question is, which Ironman do I sign up for next? (And where will I find the money for it?) I feel like I have unfinished business in Coeur d’Alene, so there’s a chance that I will be back there one day too. Mike Reilly confirmed that notion on my Facebook post.