As I’m standing at the water’s edge, ready to start my Ironman, I’m struggling to hear Mike Reilly’s announcements about the start of the race. I’m ready, goggles on, staring at the long course that lies ahead when out of nowhere, the famous Ironman cannon goes off. It’s an instantaneous mad dash into the frigid lake and you dare not stop or you will be trampled by the hundreds lined up behind you. As soon as the water is deep enough to swim, you dive in and swim with the herd of other racers.
We all have heard stories of how rough open water swim starts can be, but I’ve alway thought that was a little over-exaggerated. That was, until this race. It was violent from the start and for much longer than I anticipated. I was fortunate to never get kicked or punched too hard, but there were some pretty decent blows to my head, legs, arms and even face. For a while, I thought I even had a bloody nose, but luckily that never came to fruition. Within the first 100 yards someone swam over me, I swam over someone else and somebody tried to pull me under (probably on accident but it felt like it was intentional). I kept my cool though and pushed on with my plan…smooth and steady.
This video is courtesy of Teresa, and gives an idea of what the start looks like. It’s a little bouncy, but she was trying to hold it over other peoples’ heads.
About halfway out on the first lap, the crowds seemed to clear up and I was thankful for some room to swim. It was short-lived though and bunched up again maybe 100 yards later and lasted through the two turns back to shore. The return 900 yards to shore were occasionally violent, but it was slowly getting better until the last 100 yards which naturally were pretty crowded. As I got towards the banner we had to run through on shore, I climbed out of the water, happy that I was done with the first lap. At the same time, I realized as my feet pounded the sand running back to the water, I couldn’t really feel them anymore. A big realization of how cold it was.
I dove back into the water for the second time and it was crowded again. There was a short 45 degree line we swam to get to the first buoy and turn back out on the regular course. Again, the violence continued through that first turn and well into the first leg. There was something different about this lap though. Occasionally, and on increasing frequency, I was hitting waves that I wasn’t expecting. Two thoughts where going through my head. One was that one of the safety boats was moving around making waves, or two, people were a lot more rough in their swim strokes on this second lap. The second thought of course was ridiculous as it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the first lap, but that’s where my head was at during that time.
By the time I approached the first turn, these larger waves were continuous. I still really had no idea why though, but I noticed at points, when I was in the trough of the waves trying to sight buoys, I couldn’t see any buoys, people, boats or anything. I know many of you have probably swam races with larger waves, but this was by far the largest waves I’ve swam in during a race. Having said that, they didn’t bother me mentally, it was just frustrating to feel like I was hitting a wall every time I crashed into a wave head first.
I cut all my turns right at the buoys on the second lap. The crowds were much lower by now and I felt like I had sufficient room most of the time for the remainder of the swim. It was such a great sight to view the Coeur d’Alene Resort as I approached the shore, knowing that the swim was nearing its end. I finally climbed out of the water, tired, but happy that this leg was over.
I jogged up the sandy beach to the transition area to get ready for the bike. I ran right to the wetsuit strippers who are there to help you take off the wetsuit. They’re typically not the easiest piece of clothing to take off, but when your hands are pretty cold, the lack of dexterity makes it nearly impossible. The strippers were great and had my suit off in just a few seconds. I grabbed the suit and and ran to get my bike gear bag and run into the changing tent. There were so many great volunteers in the transition area and it made everything go smoothly. I’m so thankful for all their help they provided throughout the day.
Given the cloudy conditions and cool temperatures, I chose to ride with socks (which I usually don’t do), arm warmers and thin gloves. Finally, I was dressed and headed out to the bike, with a quick detour to get lathered with sunscreen. It’s so nice to have people there to load you up with scoops of sunscreen, just one thing less I had to worry about on race day. I was off to the bike and ran to the mount zone.
As I headed through town I was oblivious to most everything. I noticed the crowds cheering for all the riders and realized it was a little chilly. Once I got out if the residential area of town and headed towards the first turnaround, the wind hit me and it finally dawned on me why the second lap of the swim was so choppy. The wind had picked up considerably and at this point in the ride, it was raining lightly. I thought I was in for a wet, cloudy and cool day. Fortunately, only the wind remained throughout the day.
With the cycling being my strongest event, I was making quite a bit of progress through the pack of people, all while keeping my power at around 210 Watts and heart rate around 142. I was feeling really relaxed and strong and had to hold back a little, knowing I had a long day ahead of me. After I hit the first turnaround and headed back into town, I was flying. With a slight tailwind and flat or slightly downhill sections, I was ticking off the miles…but I knew what was approaching. Racing back through town and the huge crowds of people cheering was exhilarating. What a boost of adrenaline that provides.
After town, the ride turns south on Highway 95 for the hilly section. I’d driven the course and we were staying less than mile from our turn onto Hwy 95 right after crossing the Spokane River. I passed the RV park and started the first few rollers, still feeling strong. Once we turned the last corner before the bigger hills started, I made sure I calmed myself down as it would have been too easy at this point to go all out and hammer the mile-plus long hill at 6% grade. I knew my body could not afford to do that. So I sat up, out of aero position and pushed on. I was still passing quite a few people and I kept thinking, “there are a lot of really fast swimmers out there!”
For the next hour to the turnaround it was almost all climbing, into the wind, with a few short downhill sections thrown in for good measure. After the turnaround, I was able to gain some more time since it was mostly downhill with a tailwind. The last big descent, which was the first big ascent going the other way, required a little strategy. The race directors had decided this would be a no passing zone. I understand from a safety perspective why they did this, but it didn’t help me with the desire to fly down that hill. Knowing that, I tried to pass as many people as I could leading up to the no passing zone so I wouldn’t be hindered on the descent. The plan worked pretty well for the first lap and I felt great pushing the pace back into town.
Getting back to the bigger crowds in town was great! Seeing my support crew especially made it invaluable. The second lap started well as I headed out along the lake again. At the turnaround point, I stopped at my special needs bag to replenish my fluids. It was a quick stop and I pushed on. Once again, when I got back to town, I was boosted by hearing the screams of my family as I cruised past them.
Getting to the climbing on Highway 95, things started to not go quite as well. I had noticed on some of my longer training rides that at times, my power and heart rate numbers to coincide like they typically would. I start to feel fatigued and lack energy to continue. Of course I did push on, but I was in a race funk for about 30 or 45 minutes before my body snapped out of it…then I was back to normal. Well, whatever normal is after 100 miles of biking.
The winds seemed stronger to me on this last lap, which may or may not have been accurate. The turnaround point also seemed about 5 miles further out than the first lap. That is likely inaccurate, or somebody was paying a really bad joke on us. Once I hit the turnaround, I was rejuvenated again. I knew most of the trip back to transition was with a tailwind and downhill (where I can make up some time on the good climbers). I once again started passing people on the downhill sections and made up some time. Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a slower rider on the no passing zone at the long descent. I was more than frustrated having to use my brakes. Once I was past the hill, I flew past him and cruised into transition.
I got to T2 and was more than ready to be off the bike. I hopped off with my shoes on and struggled to run to my gear bag. In hindsight, I should’ve left my shoes with the bike. Typically, I leave my shoes on my bike all the time, so they’re there when I get out of the swim and I don’t have to deal with them after the bike. However, in this race the directors told us we couldn’t leave shoes on our bikes during the swim, so I assumed the same applied after the bike. Apparently that wasn’t the case, but no matter now.
The awesome volunteers found my run gear bag and I jogged into the changing tent to prepare for the last 26.2 miles of the day. I quickly put on my Altra Instincts, hat and my Rudy Project sunglasses and was out the door for some more sunscreen. Leaving T2 was exciting and stressful all at the same time. I was excited to be on my last leg of the race, but I knew I still had to complete a marathon.
I started running out of T2 and felt surprisingly well. I was running under 9:00 miles and my heart rate was reasonable. That lasted for a couple of miles and then the legs got heavy…very heavy. The pace started to slow and I was walking the aid stations. I found myself walking longer through the aid stations and knew I was suffering a bit. I kept pushing as much as I could but it was a struggle, physically and especially mentally. One thing that was running through my head the whole time came from my friend Michael Hutto. He sent me a text before the race and said “don’t walk the downhills.” He was right, and I didn’t let him down. I did however walk a lot of the uphill sections.
Crowd support on the run was unbelievable. There were so many fans out there cheering, dancing calling our names (they were on our bibs) and having such a great time, their attitudes became infectious. I was hurting more than I have hurt in any self-inflicted act of suffering, yet I was smiling, talking and enjoying the experience (most of the time). This is what it was about, in part…enjoying the race. By this time, I had thrown my time goals out the window and was focused on finishing and having fun.
Then I hit the half mile long hill with 6% grade just before mile 6. Let’s just say my attitude changed a bit. That was tough, and to add some fun, you summit this hill, run down the other side for about half a mile, then turn around and go back up to the summit again. Cruel course World Triathlon Corporation…very cruel.
After running down that nasty little hill I got back to the flat section and run/walked back towards town and the half marathon point. It was a long haul and I was envious of those on their last lap, but knew I would be there soon enough. As I approached town, I stopped at the special needs bag and replaced my two bottles of GenUcan and EFS Drink. About 100 yards later however, I realized I no longer wanted those bottles and decided to drop them. As I approached the turnaround, I noticed my wife and son off to the side, at a point where I couldn’t drop the bottles for them to pick up. Then, luckily, I noticed my mom around the corner, so I left them with her.
Heading back out on the second lap, I kept thinking how close I was to fulfilling my Ironman dream. About halfway toward the turnaround, a friend from Twitter, Nicole, came up from behind me. I said hi and we ran and chatted for a bit. It was great to meet her and see her about to become an Ironman as well. One topic of discussion was whether we’d do another Ironman again. I’m pretty sure at the time, I told her no way, this was a stupid idea and only crazy people do these things. I’m not sure how much of that came out of my mouth, but at least some of it did…I was thinking all of it though. Nicole was much stronger than me on the run as she slowly pulled away.
I continued on and struggled up and down the hills at the turnaround point. As I got back to the flat sections heading back towards town, I ran into the aid station the volunteers labeled the French Quarter (I think anyway). From that point on, the pain in my feet, legs, hip flexors, back, arms, shoulders (well, you get the idea) slowly started to fade away. I found myself running in longer intervals again…still smiling.
I was close now. I could start to hear Mike Reilly calling names as racers crossed the line. They weren’t legible words yet, but I knew the last part of each phrase…”you are an Ironman!” Those words alone at that point in the day had a profound effect. First, the pain and suffering disappeared at an even faster rate. More though, were the emotions that started to race through my body and mind. My eyes welled up at times, thinking about this two-year journey and what I was about to accomplish. I laughed at signs from the fans and their screams of encouragement. Suddenly I felt like I was running on air. All of my senses focused not on me, but on the road, the spectators, the sounds, the smells (of my sweat mostly) and the other racers. These final few minutes are almost indescribable.
Finally, I made the last turn onto Sherman Avenue. I could see the finish line and I giggled. I was looking all around me to try and space myself from the other racers so I could have my moment on the finish line to myself. I sped up to pass some and towards the end, slowed down to avoid another racer. This was my time in this race to be selfish.
The finishing chute is all you could ever imagine and then some. Thousands of people cheering, screaming, watching and holding their hands out for a high-five. I ran from side to side making sure to get as many hands slapped on both sides as I could. Looking at my finishing photo, people must have thought I was crazy. My eyes are wide open and the smile on my face looked, well…silly. I crossed that final foot and heard what I had dreamed about for two solid years…”Brian Taylor from Parker, Colorado, you are an Ironman!” It still stirs emotions in me as I write this!
At the end of these races they have ‘catchers’ or at least that’s what I call them. I felt sorry for the woman who caught me…I smelled horrible. They asked if I needed two and I said no. so she stayed with me for the next few minutes. I got my medal and hat and found my family. There was nothing better than that and I won’t even attempt to explain how much that meant to me. I remember looking at Teresa and Seth and saying simply, “I did it!” In truth, we did it! They supported me day after day, training 6 days a week, for most of that two years. They followed me to races and cheered me on in Hawaii and Boulder. They put up with me sleeping in the middle of the afternoon due to exhaustion. They encouraged me and kept me going while preparing for this largely selfish dream. For that, I can not ever thank them enough. I hugged the whole family and told them how much I appreciated them for their support that day. My seven year old son was indeed a trooper to hang out as long as he did.
I told them I’d meet them on the other side of the fence as I was still in the athlete only area. My catcher stayed with me until I knew I was okay on my own. I don’t know who she was, but se was great! Another woman was there just giving hugs to everyone. Another stranger, and yet we all had some connection to that day.
I grabbed my food and moved out of the fenced area to meet the family. As I sat down, relaxed and tried to eat, we all talked about the day. Seth ate half of my pizza as the poor kid was starving. We later moved on back to our trailer to have more pizza and then it was off to bed.
The race was over, but those memories will stay with me forever…from the cold water to the finish line, I will always look at this race with pride and happiness.
Thanks again to all who have supported me and helped me in this cherished journey. Thanks to Coach Jeff Kline for helping me find my potential and realize there is much more still to come. Thanks to all the friends I’ve met training in this wonderful community of triathlon. A special thanks to Michael Hutto, an awesome athlete and all around great guy to train with, even though he lives in California and our training sessions together are rare. Michael always has a great perspective and advice for my races and it’s much appreciated. Thanks to all of those online friends that I’ve met and shared this sport with. Endless thanks to my massage therapist and chiropractor who literally kept me in line. And a big thanks to friends, family and co-workers. your support means more than you know. Last but not least, thanks to Teresa and Seth. We did it! And without you two behind me, it never would’ve been possible. I can’t explain how grateful I am that I was able share this dream with them.
And now, to answer the question I’ve been asked countless times already. Will I do another Ironman? Well, as you read about the marathon, you probably determined that Coeur d’Alene 2012 would be my first and last Ironman, and at the time, I would’ve agreed. However, after a good night’s rest (and I mean the night after the race) I think I can safely say, that Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2012 will not be my last Ironman. I believe it was Albert Einstein that said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Well, I plan on doing more Ironman races and I do expect different results. So call me insane, and if that’s the basis for it, I’ll gladly accept the label. For I have done something that has forever changed me as a person and my personal satisfaction and enjoyment of the journey are things that have to be experienced to be completely understood. Everybody has there own thing that provides this internal gratification that can only be fulfilled by his/herself, and I am lucky enough to have found mine. Go get yours!
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the support!