Monday, July 8, 2013

IMCDA Race & Nutrition Report

Here is the rundown of my first Ironman race.  If you are only interested in my race day nutrition, you can scroll to the bottom of this post for a summary.
As mentioned in my previous post, we were lucky enough to rent a house in Coeur d’Alene for the week of the race. One of the most important things leading into race day was to have a real kitchen so that I could prepare my own foods and not rely so much on dining out or the mini-fridge and microwave setup that some hotels offer. This house had a killer kitchen (digital stove and microwave!) so I felt immediately at ease upon our arrival. 

Gotta have a kitchen!

Nutrition leading up to race day

There are all sorts of recommendations for what and how Ironman athletes should eat and drink prior to race day. For example, looking on the Ironman website, you’ll see a recommendation for eating 10 times your body weight in kilograms (as carbohydrate grams) for your 2-day carbohydrate load. This would be over 2000 calories just from carbohydrate for someone like me.  Now, if you follow Bob or me or you have knowledge of Metabolic Efficiency nutrition training and nutrition periodization principles, you know that such an approach has been challenged for quite some time. So, what did I do before race day?  Nothing different than what I have been doing during the day or the day before a long training day ... which is eating a carbohydrate-controlled daily diet with an emphasis on higher fat intake and moderate protein intake.

So, here was the day before:

  • breakfast:  egg scramble with turkey bacon, spinach, tomatoes, bell pepper, avocado
  • lunch: spinach salad with tuna, mozzarella, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled egg plus one ounce mixed nuts
  • snack: cottage cheese with olives, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds
  • dinner: chicken breast, broccoli, sweet potato, avocado; cup of almond milk
This is fewer than ~450 calories coming from carbohydrate - quite different than the aforementioned recommendation.  Crazy... or not?
I felt great throughout the day, eating when I was hungry and not eating any more than my usual amounts.  I did do some acute sodium loading after dinner following the Seebohar protocol. I drank water to thirst throughout the day along with a cup of decaf coffee in the morning.

I got to bed around 10:45pm but didn’t fall asleep until after 11:15pm.  I had hoped for a bit more sleep, but knew this was typical so I didn’t fret.

Race Day

My alarm went off at 4:00am. Other than waking up at 2am and being awake for 15-20 minutes, I had slept okay.  I found this in the bathroom (from my Irish husband) and giggled (which I didn’t know was possible at 4am):

At 4:15am, I ate a Justin’s peanut butter packet and drank 6 ounces of Via coffee with half and half. Because I had minimized my caffeine intake in the past 7 months, a little bit of caffeine has a potent effect for me. I tiptoed around the house to not wake my sister-in-law and family or my husband as I gathered the rest of my things.  I started another round of acute sodium loading at 4:30am using SaltStick capsules. I woke my husband up at 4:35am, thanking him for the Irish blessings and to say goodbye. I got a tiny bit teary as I thought about the immense support he had given me prior to this important day in our lives. Gulp.

Sonja, Michelle, and Mikki picked me up at 4:45am. Sonja sported her brilliant smile and gave me a huge hug... and off we went to pick up Emily, another of Sonja’s athletes who has completed 10 Ironman races (!). There was some chit chatting in the car as Sonja and Michelle exchanged a few stories about their previous races here. Emily was super calm. Mikki and I were (I think) secretly suppressing our nervous state. Smiling helped.

I don’t recall what time Sonja dropped us off at the start area, but it seemed chaotic everywhere I looked. It was cloudy and cool, but at least there was no rain. I was carrying 4 bags and was doing my best to stay focused on the tasks at hand. We dropped off our Special Needs bags... and then soon thereafter I realized I had already made my first mistake of the day.  My heart sank:  I forgot to put my frozen hand bottle with my UCAN mix in my Special Needs run bag. I was with Emily when I realized it (the experienced IMer) and she calmly replied with “There’s always Plan B”. Of course, except I was sad that I had already goofed in my excitement of the morning.  Smile and move on, but adjust my Run Plan A to Plan B.

I drank vanilla UCAN mixed in 12 oz water with a dash of cinnamon from ~5:30a to 5:50a. I felt light yet satisfied... what I always anticipate from the Superstarch.

The porta potty lines were extremely long so I felt a bit rushed getting to our designated area near the beach where the gals would all meet Sonja and I would get to see my husband and family before the long day ahead. To my surprise and joy, my nieces had made shirts for the event.  More smiles!!

my support crew: Brian, Mary, Grace, [me], Emma, Bridey, and Pat
(with Mikki's man, Kris, and Mo's husband, Jeff, in the background)
I hurried and struggled to not be a klutz putting on my wetsuit, gave some final hugs to the family and then tried to stick with the gals as we headed off for the swim start. I was excited!

From here, I will do my best to highlight what was important to me rather than recite the details of the course which you can read on just about any other athlete’s race report.


The gals and I did a quick warmup in the water, which seemed a bit chilly (I think 62 degrees) but not that bad.  IMCDA had a rolling swim start, which I found to be perfect for me. I had self-seeded towards the back of the 1:15-1:30 estimated finish wave and didn’t strategize any more than that.  Coach Julie had emphasized the importance of swimming efficiently, smoothly, calmly. I had not trained to become a fast(er) swimmer so I just focused on what I was taught. I also had in mind all of the open water techniques Jane Scott had taught me during Boulder masters swim classes the previous two months. It worked well for me.

I got punched and kicked a number of times, but it didn’t bother me.  When open water space would open up, I would go for it.  I actually did not draft all that much.  During the second loop, the clouds were lifting from over the lake as the sun warmed us nicely.  And what seemed to be all of a sudden, the swim was done.

I think my feet are as big as his.
Swim time 1:18:29, division rank 37


I used the wetsuit peelers, which I find to be a totally awkward experience.  After the stripping, I found my transition bag and headed into the back of the crowded changing tent. Nothing too noteworthy here except that I took my time as evidenced by my 7:41 transition time.


Remember, I was riding my Cervelo R3 road bike with the clip on aero bars.  I do love this bike, even with catching myself periodically gazing at the 'wow' tri bikes passing me by on the flat sections of the course.  Anyway, the strategy here was to go conservative for the first hour and then start to push a bit more after that, all the while having a steady cadence and trying to keep heart rate relatively consistent. I don't have a power meter so I use perceived effort and heart rate.  The bike course is known for its hills and some say for the winds, but those didn’t bug me as I live in the mountains of Colorado.  I truly love climbing hills and I just think of wind as another element like the sun and the rain to accept rather than fight. 

My thoughts were often occupied with trying to stay legal in crowded areas and wondering what the collective thoughts of cyclists are as we catch each other in the moments of not being legal.  Move it! 

You can laugh at me, but I find motivation in imagining my legs are like Thunder... the Norwegian cyclist, Thor Hushovd, kind.  For real.  

my Thunder
I did see my family a few times in the downtown area, but it was so brief that I didn’t get to absorb it as much as I had hoped.  The spectators and volunteers were wonderful, just as I had heard.

Bike nutrition/hydration:

  • 1 BonkBreaker high protein PB&J bar split into thirds: started at 0:45 in and finished by 2:15
  • 1 Clif Mojo Peanut Butter Pretzel bar split into thirds: started at 3:00 in and finished by 4:30
  • 2 packets of lemonade UCAN mixed in one 20-oz bottle with 1 Nuun tablet. Started this at the 2 hour mark and drank 16 oz of it throughout the bike.
  • 1 24-oz bottle with water and 2 Nuun tablets
  • water to thirst
  • FirstEndurance PreRace capsules (quantity 2) at 2:20 and 5:00
  • SaltStick capsules (quantity 10) throughout
  • 1/2 package of SportBeans from 5:30 to 6:00
Total bike nutrition: 680 calories, 108.5 grams carbohydrate (average 106 calories per hour; average 17 grams per hour of carbohydrate).  An interesting comparison is if I had followed a popular recommendation from a well-known website, I would’ve consumed a total of 1775 calories (276 per hour) and 69 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

How did I feel with this nutrition?  Consistent energy levels, no hunger, no muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues. I felt strong and no leg burnout.

Okay, so I'm no Thor.
Bike time: 6:24:29, division rank 28


Another long transition as I changed shirts and had one of the gracious volunteers apply sunscreen.  I also applied lube to my bum foot and changed socks. Seemed like I was there forever.

I had put both of my UCAN handheld bottles in my T2 bag (since I goofed on putting one in my Special Needs bag) so I ended up grabbing the coldest one to take with me.  I ate 2 GU Chomps as I was heading out of the changing tent (45 calories).

Time: 6:12


I was very much looking forward to the run as this is my favorite sport of all. Even knowing my left foot was not healed from the cut a few weeks prior and I wasn’t going to have my 2nd UCAN bottle at the halfway point, I didn’t dwell on anything negative. The strategy here was to go very easy the first 3 miles while trying to keep my heart rate in zone 2. Then, try to maintain a steady pace while paying attention to perceived effort and heart rate.

I was able to run the “big” hill both times without stopping. I found myself walking during the aid stations towards the last quarter of the race but at no other times. I was amazed at how many athletes I passed who were walking or running slowly. I witnessed several athletes suddenly stop running and grab their calves or hold their stomachs...sorry for them but happy it wasn’t me.

It was a kick to see my husband and sister-in-law and family several times throughout the course. They made me smile and I was reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to have this opportunity. 

Run nutrition/hydration:

  • 20-oz handheld bottle with plain UCAN + 1 Nuun tablet during the first half. I finished 16 oz of it.
  • rest of the package of Sport Beans from the bike
  • my Plan B (since I didn’t have my 2nd bottle of UCAN) was to alternate at each aid station taking a gulp of Coke and Perform from mile 10. I found these liquids to be too sweet for my palate and I also did not take in any calories during the last 4 miles of the run due to not having a desire for anything sweet.  So, my best estimation is 8 oz of each based on what my usual gulp amount is.
  • SaltStick capsules throughout
Total run nutrition: 365 calories (~85 per hour or ~21 average grams of carb per hour. That same website I referred to earlier suggested I take in 140 calories per hour or 35 grams of carb per hour).

How did I feel on the run?  Like many others, my average pace per mile slowed as the run progressed but my pace did not significantly change until the last 6 miles. Even so, my pace decreased by only 0:30 to 1:00 minute per mile, so nothing THAT bad.  I did not have any muscle cramps or stomach/gut issues throughout. My foot gave me slight pain but honestly, there was so much else to think about that I didn’t even notice it much.  I didn’t have an appetite the last 4 miles but I don’t believe my pace slowed due to lack of calories.

My friend, Mikki, caught up to me within the last mile. We chatted for a few minutes and then I told her to go on as she seemed to have a faster pace than me. The last stretch of the race through town is truly incredible, in so many ways, as I imagine it is for any first time Ironman athlete in any town in the world. I found myself running a sub 8:15 pace in that last stretch as I approached the cheers of my husband and my family supporters... and then the finish line. This picture makes me look as if I’m believing I won an Olympic medal, but honestly I just felt elated to have finished this race with success overall.

Wrapping up the finish
Run time: 4:18:08, division rank 14

My Ironman finish time was 12:14:59 for 14th in my age group.  Thrilled and unexpected!  And although my nutrition Plan A didn’t get tested, I am still happy with the results. I have no doubts that my metabolically efficient daily nutrition played a huge role in the outcome of this special day in my life. 

Nutrition summary: 

  • Before race:  465 calories from Justin’s nut butter packet, 2 scoops Vanilla UCAN, 2 Tbsp half and half in coffee
  • During race:  1045 calories (~85 per hour), 187 grams carbohydrate (~15 grams per hour)

Actual finish 12:14:59

Right after race finish
My next post will be on Ironman after thoughts and gratitude.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ironman Coeur d’Alene: The week before the Big Day

I know many readers want to know how my nutrition plan looked for my first Ironman. Have patience as I wanted to first write about the days leading up to race day. 

Tuesday, June 18

I had decided long ago to make the drive to Coeur d’Alene (CDA) rather than fly so that my husband (Patrick) and I could take our dog, not worry about bike transportation, and we could see Montana again (albeit at 80 mph with only one stop in Bozeman to/from CDA).  Off we were on the journey!

I had forgotten what it’s like to sit in a car for hours on end. Even with reading materials, good tunes, and discussions of various topics with The Hub, I was antsy. I’m not good at car naps so that was not an option.  I reviewed my race day plan, nutrition plan, and made a grocery list for CDA. These tasks made me feel excitement over what was to come!

Yet...I was feeling quite nervous about my left foot.  You see, I had made a mistake a few weeks prior during a Boulder Stroke and Stride event (1500m swim, 5K run) by deciding to: 1) skip drying my feet thoroughly after the swim 2) skip putting on socks  3) wear shoes I hadn’t worn barefoot before.  Dumb because look what happened...and this was 5 days after the incident (sorry this is grotesque):

I will spare you the other images showing the infection that ensued, which wasn’t helped by swimming in the Boulder Reservoir before it was closed for elevated E. Coli levels. When I saw greenish ooze, I realized a visit to the podiatrist was in order. A painful “clean out”, some topical iodine, and a prescription for antibiotics and I was on my way. The doc said “you’ll be okay to do your Ironman but you’ll probably feel it”. What did that mean?  The pain in my foot hadn’t subsided and I hadn’t run for 9 days. I now feared my favorite part of a triathlon - the run.  All I could do was take care of the wound, hope for the best, and try to get my attitude in order. Mind over matter.

Wednesday, June 19

We drove through non-stop rain to arrive in CDA mid-afternoon. The temperature was in the low 50s and felt bone-chilling. But I was happy to be there and to stretch out the legs!  

We were fortunate enough to rent a house overlooking the lake a few miles outside of town. I highly recommend this option over a hotel room, especially if you care about your nutrition and want the ability to prepare your own food.  With list in hand, Pat and I were off to the grocery store to stock up for the remainder of the week.  Food items on the list included everything I normally consume, but more on that in the next blog.

The evening was pretty much “chillaxing” time. Some unpacking, reading, resting the foot, checking the weather forecast multiple times, and pondering the next few days.

Thursday, June 20

I awoke to... more rain and another cold day.  But, I was looking forward to meeting Mikki and Mo (friends and neighbors from Boulder) for a swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene so we could test out the waters and get a feel for how cold it would be.  We met mid-morning in windy, 48-degree weather to some serious chop. The water temperature was around 61-62 degrees, which actually felt warmer than expected. Perhaps this video gives you an indication of the conditions:

We swam for 30 minutes, or rather, I tried not to swallow copious amounts of water for 30 minutes.  Mo has been swimming for a long time and had some great tips for Mikki and me on how to navigate the swells and alter our stroke to be more efficient. This was super helpful, in addition to just being able to relax the mind and “go with it”. The swim actually turned out to be a fun time, especially getting to share it with these gals.

Out of the water, it was freezing! A quick change into dry clothes and a stop at Calypso’s (thanks for the recommendation, Andrew Chad!) for a hot cup of decaf warmed the bones quickly. I then went to packet pickup, which is where I got my next bolus of excitement seeing other athletes and eavesdropping on other’s conversations about it being their first IM too. Pat and I didn’t hang out at the Athletes Village very long due to the rain and cold so we headed back to the house.

I had hoped to pedal the bike for a bit today, but there was really no stopping the rain so Coach Julie’s advice was “no”, for safety reasons and to not trash the bike.  I decided to wait to test out the foot until the following day which left me with time to start organizing items for race day.  We did catch a movie that night, which is something my husband and I rarely do. I’m serious... if I can get him to one movie per year, it’s a thrill.  We decided to go to a goofy movie because Sonja had suggested finding ways to giggle and laugh as a way to reduce stress and besides, it’s just plain fun to belly laugh. So, we picked the movie “This is the End”, which was funny at times, and a little difficult to watch at other times (for its absurdity). Nonetheless, it was entertainment and the last bit of free time before I felt I needed to get more focused. I was just hoping for no nightmares that night.  

Friday, June 21

Here it is T-2 days ‘til showtime.  The sun was actually shining a little bit today and it had warmed up into the 50s.  Sonja had flown in to support her athletes, but she was gracious to include me for a morning swim and share some great tips about warming up and navigating the swim when you find yourself in a tight spot. This was a short but fun swim and I was happy to be with these gals.  
Mikki, Mo, Sonja and me post-swim
After the swim, Sonja gave us a tour of the run course (which is also part of the bike course) and gave a superb narrative of what to watch out for, where aid stations will be, where the most awesome spectators will be, etc. She knows the ins and outs, having rocked this course a few times herself!  

Later I went with Pat to take my bike to Jim at CycleMetrix per Sonja’s recommendation for a once-over. For future IMCDA’ers, I highly recommend this shop for any of your cycling issues or needs. Jim was beyond nice and super efficient. And he even didn’t give me the stink eye for having “just” a road bike.

After that fun, it was time to test out the foot. We drove back to the lake and then ran part of the run course for about 40 minutes, which included the “big” hill.  Most say this is the toughest part of the run. 

The hill wasn’t as bad as the pain in my foot!  I knew I was going to need some (more) serious mental toughness to get through the marathon if my foot was going to feel like THAT on race day.  Attitude!

Later that day, our family from Boise arrived (minus one niece but with the addition of another niece from Indiana). I was really looking forward to seeing the 5 of them. They make me happy and I am so comfortable around them. Nothing beats having some extra support too!  After some chit chat time, they went out for dinner with Pat while I preferred to stay home to cook my dinner, organize more stuff, and relax. It was a great day overall!

Saturday, June 22

I felt like it was the day before my wedding. Double-triple checking things, feeling a little “on edge”, not a super big appetite.  And knowing the next day would be another one of those “life changing” events. Yep, that sounds sappy and it is.

Pat, my sister-in-law (Mary) and I headed to the lake mid-morning.  Pat and I rode more of the run course to test out the bike while Mary happily walked our dog and enjoyed watching the variety of athletes biking and running the course.  I did a short run off the bike and called it good.

Back home, it was time to do final packing of transition bags and then check in the bike. This is where I got a bit intimidated as I rolled in my Cervelo road bike with strap on aero bars and saw the loads of fancy-schmancy tri bikes sticking their tongues out at me.  Never mind them.  Okay, I was also drooling over those bikes too.  
My bike in the Cervelo sandwich (#682)
I put my transition bags in the appropriate areas and then tried to familiarize myself with the layout of T1 and T2.  I was overwhelmed at first.

...and then I realized I wouldn't be the only out there trying to figure it out tomorrow!  

After bike check in, it was finally time to settle in for the rest of the evening. I spent some time preparing nutrition for the next day and reviewing plans.  I listened to Bobby McGee (the coach, not the musician) for inspiration and to get me centered.  I think I watched a little bit of the Blackhawks game before dinner with my cool bro-in-law, Brian, before it was chow time... and then the final hours.

So, this was a summary of events leading up to race day.  Not super fascinating, I realize (especially for you experienced IMers).  So, next post will be about race day and how my nutrition plan unfolded.

Thanks for reading,