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Photo credit: James Richman Photography

If, at the beginning of the season, you had told me I would be racing an Ironman this year, I probably would have laughed in your face. It simply was not part of the plan. But sometimes the best laid plans can be the most static and unexciting. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself and you just have to take the challenge.

Exactly four weeks ago today, I got a phone call that completely changed the trajectory of my triathlon season. I am fortunate enough to serve as an ambassador for Orbea, a company that not only makes currently the fastest bike in triathlon, but also has some of the best people working for it. Orbea had signed on as a sponsor for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and they were able to get me into the race, despite it having been full for months. All I had to do was help out at the expo. Three days of hanging around chatting with a bunch of really excited people about bikes. Twist my arm…

As it turns out, there is no such thing as a three and a half week Ironman training program. Who knew? I did a couple long rides, followed by some running, and did my best to get rested up to the best of my ability.

Coeur d’Alene is arguably one of the most triathlon-friendly venues in the sport. Not only does the area perfectly embody the beauty of the inland northwest, but the city comes out in full force in support of the event. There were no less than 3,500 volunteers helping out for the weekend. We rented a house that the owners vacated for the week, and the extremely friendly neighbors brought us over some Ironman-themed cookies. The restaurants were crowded, but the service everywhere was great and everyone seemed genuinely excited about all the buzz from the Ironman.

I got a little easy swimming, riding, and running in during the few days leading up to the event, and everything felt great. I managed to meet up with a couple of my Team Stampede teammates during the expo, and Kurt and I got out for a short swim.

Ironman CDA

So come Sunday morning, there I stood on the beach, a little intimidated by the sheer amount of time this endeavor would take, but ultimately feeling good. Since Coeur d’Alene has a rolling start, the swim start position is self-seeding. I lined up with the one-hour swim group, and the start was much less chaotic than I was expecting. The water was, however, very choppy due to some pretty heavy wind. I definitely got a few breaths contained no air. Here’s a photo from the swim. Can you find me? I couldn’t either.


Thanks to a brand new pair of awesomely clear Orca goggles, I swam in an uncharacteristically straight line. Between that and the employment of some decent drafting techniques, I came out of the water in 1:00:24, slightly slower than I had originally hoped, but with the conditions the way they were, faster than I was expecting.

I hopped on my Ordu and began to move my way through the field. At the first turnaround, just seven miles in, I could see that I was the 15th amateur. I focused on keeping consistent, not pushing the first lap too hard, and taking in nutrition regularly. I felt smooth, efficient, and confident.

After the first out-and-back, the bike course heads back through town and takes a turn to the southwest. The headwind on the southwest-bound portion of the bike was brutal, and I felt like a lot of time was lost. I kept looking forward to the steep climbs because they provided a little bit of shelter from the wind. All in all though, I held it together, leapfrogging with a few other guys on the bike, but not gaining or losing any substantial ground. I came off the bike in 13th, blazed through T2 in true Montana fashion, and surprised myself by effortlessly ticking off 7-minute miles for the first part of the run. I had some friends out on the run course yelling at me (thanks Bill and Elliot, you guys are rockstars). Again, the strategy was to keep everything in control and stay on top of nutrition.

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Here I am stuffing my face with a banana while in full stride. The aid stations were great! There were no less than 26 opportunities to do just this (I didn’t eat 26 bananas though, I think that probably would have caused some problems).

Photo credit: James Richman Photography

I heard a lot of people yell my name while I was running through town, and only occasionally could I tell who was doing the yelling. Going into the second lap, instead of dreading the next 13 miles, I felt pretty confident that I could keep things rolling effectively through the finish.

Halfway point on the run, showing some appreciation for my fan club.

I was told that I had moved into 4th in my age group, and knew that one guy in front of me had already qualified for Kona, and that I had a big gap on 5th. Since there are three qualifying spots, I knew I would most likely be able to nab one, but for pride’s sake I wanted to be in the top three. On the second lap of the run, it was chaos. There were a lot of people around, and it was hard to tell who was on their second lap and who was just starting. I worked to keep a good solid pace, and at some point I passed someone in my age group. The last two miles were tough, but when I finally made the left turn on to Sherman Avenue for the finishing stretch, I was pulled home by a corridor of cheering spectators and immediately greeted by Keegen and Keith, the Orbea guys, who informed me that I had gotten a Kona slot, along with Kailee, my mom, and the whole entourage.

Huge props to my #1 fan for getting up with me at 4am, tracking and cheering for me all day, and being there for congratulations at the finish!

Final stats:
T1: 2:38
Bike: 5:18:04
T2: 1:15
Run: 3:19:01
Total Time: 9:41:22
Overall Place: 23 (2,466 total finishers)
Gender Place: 22 (yeah, I got chicked. Heather Wuertele’s an animal)
Age Group Place: 3
Amateur Place (excluding pros): 12

I can’t thank Orbea enough for giving me this opportunity and talking me into such a masochistic endeavor. I look forward to representing Orbea and Orca in Kona! Also, huge thanks to all my co-workers at Missoula Bicycle Works for dealing with all the RATPOD week chaos without me while I went to play in Coeur d’Alene.

Big congratulations to fellow first-time Ironman and Team Stampede teammate Brian Lockwood, who pulled off an impressive 12:38 finish at age 48, and fellow teammate Kurt McDonough, who came through with a 13:10. The Missoula couple of Brianna Grieve-McSweeney and Jake Hanson also made the trip for their first Ironman experience, finishing in 15:33 and 11:04, respectively. As far as I know, everyone who made the trip from Missoula successfully made it to the finish line.

And with that, this rather unexpected journey continues. Now for a little rest, then it’s back to the grind with training. Time to hit it harder than ever. Kona bound baby!

It will look a little like this, but the sand might be prettier and the water might be slightly more shark-infested.

One thought on “An unexpected journey

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