As it seems every Ironman race report starts, “get yourself a cup of coffee and settle in.” I’m going to do a second post about where we stayed, where we ate, and more for anyone who will be heading there next year or in years to come. But as for race day itself, read on.
Race morning was generally uneventful. I had been waking up naturally around 5:30 am since we arrived in Coeur d’Alene so the 3:50 alarm didn’t feel all that early. Breakfast went down easily and soon we were making our way down to the lake. Mark did his best to remind me that nervous energy was not going to do any good but I couldn’t seem to calm it and felt like I was on the verge of tears all morning. I got in a short warm up jog and tried unsuccessfully to get my breathing under control.
With the new swim start there was quite a back up trying to get down to the beach which you can imagine did nothing good for my already high nerves. I gave a quick kiss to Mark and told him to give my love to Mom and Elyse as I navigated through the crowd and finally onto the sand.
Swim: 1:00:02, 1:25
I am the first to admit that I had been very skeptical about the Swimsmart Initiative. As a stronger swimmer I looked forward to experiencing the mass start and using this discipline to my advantage. But, after learning that it only took about 12 minutes to get all the athletes in the water I am slightly less skeptical. I still think this change takes away a bit of the race aspect as you never know where you stand throughout the course of the day.
The new start did accomplish a large part of what WTC was hoping for, as I easily entered the water off to the right and could start swimming. Coach suggested taking a right hand line even if this meant swimming just a bit farther and I think it was great advice. No getting kicked, grabbed, pushed under or the like. The water temperature was perfect and the lake was flat. Literally smooth sailing. I have mentioned here before that I have put a lot of time in the pool this year and I am glad that it was all worth it. Thank you Rad Hallman and the boys at TriFit for pulling me around! The CDA swim course is a counter-clockwise rectangle which felt most crowded after I made the turn at the second buoy on lap 1. I had placed myself toward the back of the 60 and under corral and likely would have had less congestion had I started more towards the middle. Something I will remember next time.
I may not be the fastest athlete but I am nothing if not consistent, at least in the water. I came out of lap 1 at 29:09 and out of lap 2 at 30:53. Coming out of the lake and seeing the clock at 1 hour put a huge smile on my face. Up to the wetsuit strippers and into the tent.
Onto the bike. I had opted for arm warmers, although they did add some time to my transition as it was tough to get them on, and was so glad I did. The sun was shining but the air was freezing and I prayed that temperatures would climb a bit over the next few hours. The crowd support in Coeur d’Alene was unlike any race I have ever done and made the small loop out along the lake pass by in a flash. I noted the 60 mile sign and told myself how good it would feel to see that the next time around. Once I was comfortable my focus turned to wattage control and nutrition.
The first loop of the bike went by pretty quickly. It was hilly no doubt, but thanks to living in Southern California I had done most of my long training rides with 5-6K of climbing. The longer more gradual hills of CDA were a welcome change to the punchy steep grades of the Santa Monica mountains. Just after the turnaround of the first loop is when the stronger girls caught me. I knew it was a matter of time and I was proud of making it that far. One thing this course did highlight was my fear of descending. I will freely admit this is something I need to work on and something that definitely cost me some time against the more confident riders.
Back into town I was still smiling, happy to see Mark, my mom and bestie Elyse again and thrilled at riding 2:50 for the first loop. I stopped for a hot second at Special Needs and took another Osmo packet and Bonk Breaker after death threats from coach about blowing by.
The turn back onto the highway brought my first low moment of the day. I felt a bit like I was riding alone and the temperature was creeping upwards. I thought of all the wonderful advice that had been sent my way and just kept the pedals turning over. At mile 80 I knew the turnaround was close and once we hit those cones I audibly yelled “wahoo!” My nutrition was on point, my legs were still there and I was going to ride well under my 6 hour goal.
I can’t say enough thanks to Stacy Sims for her help in dialing in my hydration and nutrition. My plan was flawless, and though it may be too much information I peed four to five times throughout the course of 112 miles. And no, I don’t stop. A shout out as well to the wonderful people at Profile Design for their creation of the Aero HC which greatly helped in monitoring my fluid intake.
Something that lurked in the back of my mind throughout the ride was the lack of any really dark sections. Ironman wouldn’t be what it is without some moments where you question whether or not you can actually make it to that finish line. I had successfully made it almost seven hours without anything more than a few miles of rough patch on the bike. Was every mile of that marathon going to be dark?
Into the tent and it was empty. Literally empty. I had two volunteers help me get myself together and out onto the course. Running down the sidewalk that takes you onto the road was surreal. Stacked with people all cheering and for lack of a better way to say it, it was awesome.
I had been instructed to take the first three miles easy and evaluate my stomach. Again with thanks to Dr. Sims my stomach felt completely fine, which is something I don’t take lightly. With every step I started to realize my legs felt like lead. My pace was decent and my breathing controlled but it was more painful than I had anticipated. Within a few miles I stopped looking at my Garmin. It wasn’t synching with the mile markers and I realized this was going to be more about survival than tactic. I remembered Arielle’s advice about taking the marathon aid station to aid station and that is exactly what I did. Cathleen passed me in the opposite direction towards the turnaround on the first loop and I was so grateful for her support. She was killing it and it gave me a boost to see her fly by. Climbing the hill was a welcome break and I actually wished for a minute that I could just steadily climb the rest of the marathon as it felt better on my legs.
Although incredibly painful, the marathon slowly passed by. I kept my walking to the aid stations, giving myself 10-20 seconds on the end of each one before I started up again. In retrospect I was actually running decently even though it didn’t feel that way. At mile 23 I looked down at the time of day and realized if I kept it together I could still make it under 11 hours.
Back through the neighborhoods for the final time and finally into town. A huge wave of relief washed over me to take the path marked “Finish” and not “Lap 2”. The left hand turn onto Sherman Avenue signaled it was literally all down hill from there and I just tried to take it all in. I can’t speak to other Ironman events as this was my first, but the run down into the finish shoot was amazing. For the first time all day I let my guard down and knew I was to make it.
“Anabel Capalbo, You are an Ironman!”
And then the tears came. A friend and Team in Training coach had made her way into the shoot as she would be volunteering later that evening. I am so grateful for her presence as I finally let go and sobbed big ugly tears. I was so happy, so relieved and so incredibly overwhelmed.
The gifts of the day seemed to keep coming as I walked down the finisher’s area and heard my name from off to the side. I still have tears in my eyes writing about what happened next.
Four years ago, when my hair was growing back in with chemo curls I went on a rock climbing trip to Jackson Hole, WY with an organization called First Descents. FD runs adventure trips for young adult cancer survivors and it was an incredible week. To make a long story short, on that trip I met a wonderful woman Jenn who is a breast cancer survivor. We connected and although we don’t keep in touch regularly I was hoping to have a chance to see her while in CDA as she lives there with her family.
I looked over to where the voice had come from and there along the fence was Jenn with her beautiful kids and husband. And then I truly came unglued. This race, and this day, was about much more than the 140.6 miles that I had traveled to come across the line. It was an affirmation of life. Of rebuilding what cancer and chemotherapy had torn down and of being stronger than ever. I had done it.
After collecting myself and getting the coveted pizza I found Mark, and Mom and Elyse. And of course, more tears. I could see in Mark’s face how proud and excited he was. And then heard all about the epic messaging that had gone on all day with Coach, Hillary, Katie and the list goes on. I don’t think I have ever felt more blessed and grateful.
Gear collected, clothes changed and fatigue setting in we made our back to the Inn. Truthfully I was nervous to shower as I had heard horror stories of post IM sunburn, chafing and the like. Possibly the biggest victory of my day was coming away with nothing more than one blister on my big toe which drained cleanly and without fanfare. Huge thanks to the people at Trislide for their support and keeping me chafe free!
Clean and happy we walked back into town for dinner and stayed to watch the final finishers make their way down Sherman Ave. I have so much admiration for, and take so much inspiration from, those who persevere through a nearly 17 hour day. Thankfully all of my Team in Training teammates made it under that line and were given their medal.
Thank you all for your comments, tweets, Facebook posts and messages. This journey has been more fulfilling that I could have ever imagined and I am eternally grateful for your support.
Ironman number one is in the books, and I can’t wait for what will come next.