The one that means the most

Stephanie House, a Rogue who finished the Ironman Coeur d’Alene (her first!) in an amazing 12:34, has given us a firsthand account of her experience. Read and be inspired!

I want to start off by saying that I can complete 100 more Ironman races, but this one will mean the most to me.  I would also like to say how much I love and thank my husband for being so supportive of me along the way.

Things I learned from this experience:
–    make sure cleats are tight before the race
–    double check the food you brought for race morning to make sure it isn’t moldy and always have a plan B in case it is (fortunately I did)
–    don’t eat ‘until it hurts’ the dinner before the race to guarantee you will have enough energy to finish the race
–    thoroughly break in running shoes to make sure there are no pressure issues. ☺

With that in mind, here goes my story.

Thursday, June 18th:

We arrived on Thursday to cool, sunny weather.  We ate at a restaurant in Spokane and comfortably sat outside.  This was the perfect start to the weekend.  We arrived to the Flamingo Motel in Coeur d’Alene around 4 in the afternoon to find that we were in the perfect spot.  We were right on the race course and only 6 blocks to the start line.  The room was perfect and was greeted by BJ, the owner’s very friendly cat.  He came by our room everyday to greet us and get a back scratchin’.  We unloaded our bags, and then swiftly made it over to Tribike to pick up my bike before they closed at 5.  Other than an end cap missing, she was in perfect shape.  We got back to the room, changed into running gear and headed out for an easy 30 minutes on the course.  The course is beautiful winding around the lake.  There was a nice breeze as we passed the lake and noticed all the folks in town for the race.  The energy was definitely building for the weekend.  The remainder of the night consisted of more food, a glass of wine, and then a good night’s sleep.

Friday, June 19th:

I decided to sleep in this morning and skip the practice swim.  We woke up to cloudy skies, windier condition, and light rain.  We walk over to the coffee shop for coffee and breakfast.  The energy is definitely growing rapidly as I see more and more people arrive for the event.  Big smiles all around as excited athletes and spectators walk around the town.  My energy follows suit and I go back to the room to get ready to get on my bike.  I layer up a bit since it feels cold to me.  My husband prepares my bike, and then off I go onto the race course.  The rain starts to come down, though I’m getting warm very quickly.  I remove my top layer and enjoy the soft cold rain as I cruise along the course.  I see other competitors on the course with big grins as we all look forward to the days ahead.  I make it back to the room to shower, change, then off to eat again.  I had until 4 o’clock today to solidify my registration and I waited until after lunch to guarantee myself a short wait in line.  I make my way through the tents, the volunteer puts my wristband on, butterflies in my belly appear, and then off I go.  The race is becoming more of a reality to me.
The Friday before the race is a welcoming dinner where Mike Riley, the voice of Ironman, really pumps the athletes up.  The food is never exciting, just pasta and chicken, but the folks you meet at the table are always great.  We met Dale and Christy from Chicago.  Dale is in his 50’s, this is his 3rd IM and his wife Christy was volunteering to be a catcher at the finish line on Sunday.  They were staying at the same bed and breakfast that we stayed at 2 years ago.  What a small world!!  We also met Kim from Portland.  This was her first IM and very excited.  The rest of the night consisted of motivational video clips that really get your blood pumping and then my favorite part of the night where they do ‘the biggest loser’ for the event, the person who lost the most weight training for the event.  Mike Riley has folks stand that have lost 50 pounds and then keeps increasing the weight lost to see who if left standing.  By the time he got to 110 pounds, there were 2 women and 1 man left.  They went on stage to find that the women lost 140 and 130 pounds and then the man lost 150 pounds! Absolutely amazing!  The oldest competitor was 73 and this was his 28th IM.  A true inspiration.

After the dinner, we made it back to the room, I started packing up my transition bags, then off to bed for one more good nights sleep.

Saturday, June 20th:

This day was the calm before the storm.  Even with all the folks in town, and there were many, the town was silent all day.  A stark contrast from the day before and you could see the angst on the athletes faces, including mine.  This was it, tomorrow was the day.

I made it to the water for a short swim and get familiar with the course once again.  The weather was amazing.  Sunny, warming to the 70’s with a slight breeze.  The water temp was a balmy 65 with very little chop.  My wetsuit felt awesome!  There were many people getting in one last swim as we all played around the buoys on the course.

After the swim was breakfast, then I had to get my transition bags and bike dropped off by 3.  I found where my bags went, then went to rack my bike.  As soon as I let go of it and it was hanging from the rack it truly hit me that it was finally here.  My belly did a flop and I realized tomorrow is finally here.

Once I had everything dropped off, there wasn’t anything left to do, so we took a boat ride around the lake.  It really is a beautiful place that I would like to visit for vacation some day.  It was nice to get away from the race site.  We met Don and Karen on the boat who were from the Woodlands.  To find out, they were old neighbors to my friends Adam and Cherie who met 2 years ago at the race site.  Once again, small world!  It’s amazing who you run into.  This was Don’s first IM race and we were both mentally in the same place, just let us get started.

After the boat ride, it was time to eat again.  Yea!  More food.  (I honestly was looking forward to finishing this race so I wouldn’t have to eat ever again!)  Ok, so this is where one of my mental notes will take place on the next one.  I didn’t finish 2 years ago because I didn’t eat enough before the race and give myself a good ‘power layer’ as my husband calls it.  I didn’t want that to happen again, so I ate as much pasta and sauce as I could until my stomach hurt.  Bad idea…. You will see why on Sunday’s report. ☺  Regardless, I ate, went back to the room and just went to bed.

SUNDAY!!!!!  RACE DAY IS HERE!!!, June 21st:

The alarm goes off at 3:30 am.  I awaken right away and get my prerace breakfast ready to go.  My plan was a bagel with almond butter and honey, a starbucks double shot for the caffeine, and some white bread to top it off.  Much to my surprise, by bagels were already in a moldy state.  WHAT?!?!  I said to myself, I just bought them before I left Austin.  Oh well, time for plan B.  All white bread, almond butter and honey, and my caffeine kicker.

I shower, get my race gear on, wake my sleepy husband up, then we are off to the start.  I am surprisingly very calm though I fret about the swim.  For anyone that is not aware of these mass swims, they are nuts.  2000+ people trying to get around a mile looped course twice.  My goal was not to get a black eye and finish calmly.

The morning was a whirlwind!  It went by so quickly.  Drop the special needs bags off-check, air up tires-check, relieve bladder-check, now get the wetsuit on.  The mass wave was scheduled to go off at 7am sharp.  The pros went off at 6:25am, so the beach area was a mad house with all of the spectators.  The athletes must cross a certain entrance onto the beach for our chips to register into the timing system.  The problem was, we could not get to that entrance because of the huge bottle neck of the crowds.  All I remember was kissing my husband good bye, quickly trying to push my way, along with many other athletes, to that entrance, finding a starting spot, the BOOOM!, the gun went off.  Here we go I thought to myself.

Swim:
The start wasn’t too bad in terms of crowd.  From my first breath though, the burping began.  Almost every breath stroke for the entire 2.4 miles I burped.  Over and over again.  I site the first turn buoy and the congestion begins.  I tried to stay on the outer edges of the swim, but kept getting forced further in from the other swimmers.  As I make my turn to come home for the first time, I find open water and try to get a rhythm.  Sure enough though, a guy would side-swipe me and stop me in my tracks, then I’d start all over again.  This was the swim in a nutshell; burping and getting knocked around by guys not swimming straight.  I make it in at 1:24.  I’m happy with that.  I don’t care about time today.  This is about finishing.

T1:
Wetsuit strippers are awesome.  I get mine stripped off, find my transition bag, then off to the tent.  The volunteers are amazing at these events.  By the time I found a seat, a lady was there to help me.  The weather was warm enough for me to forego the arm warmers, so I just put my bike gear on, stop by the folks with the sun screen, short porta potta stop, then off to find my bike.  As I leave the transition area I hear Sam but have no idea where he was at.  I just kept telling myself I’m going for a fun bike ride today.  Take it easy now let’s get going.

Bike:
I didn’t care about how fast I went today.  I played a very conservative card on the roads.  I feathered the back break on the down hills and took the hilly sections easy.  This is where my pre-race dinner decided to really catch up with me.  My belly bloated to the point of pain throughout the entire 112 miles.  Once again, burp, burp, burp I went along the course.  My body was still processing my nutrition, so I stuck to my plan and ignored the pain in my belly.  Every once in a while I’d burp up the nutrition, spit it out and kept rolling.  The first loop I always get a giggle at.  People are so energized on the first loop.  People would be bombing the down hills and fighting the up hills.  The only thing that annoyed me is that they would get in my way on the down hills, and then I’d be stuck behind them as they struggled up the hill.  Oh well, up and down we went.  On the second loop, the energy was completely opposite from the first.  I finished the first loop with a quick porta potty break, then off to the 2nd loop.  I do not and will not ever pee on the bike.  I will happily take the 3 minute hit on my time. ☺  Once again, I’m not racing anyways, so whoooo!  When I made it to the hilly section of the course for the second time, it was silence from everyone and a lot of grimacing.  My left foot kept moving fore and aft on the pedals as I climbed.  Rut-ro!  Loose cleat!  Come on baby, hang in there until I get back to town!  When I got past that section, which lasts a very long long time, I put my head down and hammered my way back into town.  I didn’t know how my run would go with my stomach bloated the way it was.   If I had to walk, I would walk.

T2:
Yea!!  I finished the bike!  Once again the volunteers were amazing.  The clouds quickly appeared as I was on the bike and I knew if I had to walk a lot I would probably get cold.  One of the volunteers got into my T1 bag to get my arm warmers for me as I prepared myself in the tent for the run.  Amazing and wonderful people!  It felt so good to have running shoes on.

Run:
I started running and my body felt great!  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t take my garmin with me, so I had no idea on pace.  I didn’t want anything on me to make me get into race mode.  I was out here to finish, so I picked a pace I knew I could do for a long time.  The weather was cloudy, chilly, and rainy…. Perfect!  Coming from the Austin heat, this was amazing.  The only thing I had to tweak was water intake.  I had to stop 3 times within the first 10 miles.  Needless to say I didn’t take in water at every water station.  Even by the final 4 I needed to go again, but refused since I was so close to the finish.  I took the run one mile at a time.  Our race bibs have our first name on them, so the crowds and volunteers were always cheering us on by our names.  I always had a smile and a thank you in return.  I’d see my husband on the course cheering for me and taking photos.  He always told me I looked so strong and was so proud of me.  When I saw him at the 15-16 mile range, I just remember telling him I’m going to be an Ironman today and I’ll be right back as I headed for the long out and back on my second loop.  I really enjoyed the weather on the run, but many other athletes did not.  I kept seeing more and more people with the silver blankets on.  Each mile kept ticking off one by one.  My right shoe had a pressure point on the top of my foot that I tried to fix a couple of times, but when I realized there was no fixing it, I numbed it out of my mind and kept running.  The last 4 miles hurt.  There really is no other way to describe it.  My run training did not go well the couple of months prior to this race.  My longest distances were roughly 12-15 miles.  Between banging up my knee and fighting the heat and humidity in Austin, I did what I could with regards to running.  So, by mile 22, it just hurt.  I kept going.  One foot in front of the other.  I knew this would be over soon.  I’d give myself 20 second walk breaks, and then back to running.  I knew that as soon as I saw the Blue Seventy tent, I was home.  I kept rounding corners looking for it.  It has to be here! I kept thinking.  Then, there it was.  I picked up the pace, climbed the last hill to Sherman, tried not to get emotional so my feet would stay solid under me, and then soaked up the last long down hill stretch to the finish.  With a huge smile on my face, I high-fived people in the finish shoot, pumped my fists, and then I was there.  I did it.  I was finally an Ironman!  The volunteers quickly wrapped me in my silver blanket thingy to keep me warm, and then slowly helped me along the way in the finish area.  Hat, t-shirt, and medal in hand, we walk over to get my photo taken.  I see Chris Sellers in the finish area and give him a big hug.  I did it! I said.  After my photo was taken and I was wrapped up once again, the volunteers knew I wasn’t going to pass out, so they instruct to follow the fenced area up to the food and fluids area for athletes.  Before I knew it, there was my husband running up to me as fast as he could yelling, ‘BABY!  You did it!’.  He hugged me super tight and then the tears came out.  I did it, I said.  I did it.  I was finally an Ironman!

12 hours, 34 minutes, 23 seconds

For everyone who is wondering if I will do this again, my response is, HELL YEAH!

Thanks for reading.

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