Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2009 Race Report - Kona, Baby!

Before the race


My friend Rebecca and I drove to Coeur d'Alene from Seattle on Thursday evening. We rented a 3 bedroom house a few blocks from the finish line, it was really cute. Our support crew of 8 (!) friends were to come up throughout Friday and Saturday. We also had lots of friends racing and volunteering who were staying elsewhere, so it was quite a turnout of fellow racers and supporters for this event.

Friday morning at 7am, we swam one loop of the swim course and rode our bikes for 30 minutes on the course. The water was choppy and the bike course was windy (turns out even more so on race day). The new goggles I just bought were leaking in my right eye :( It was the same kind that I trained with for the last 6 months, but the current pair started to lose their seal. I guess the new ones were defective. I figured I'd give them another shot the next day, but most likely would have to resort to my old pair. The bike felt good though after the $100 pro tune-up that I just got!

After the swim and the ride, we checked in and picked up our race packets with 5 bags (one for dry clothes to drop off on race morning, one for swim to bike transition stuff, one for bike special needs to pick up half way through the bike ride, one for bike to run transition and finally run special needs to pick up half way through the run course).

I also checked in at the Janus Charity Challenge Tent where they gave me a very cute tri top. It felt more comfortable that the one I was planning to race in, so I decided to wear their top on race day. My total funds raised for Doctors Without Borders were $2,503. This was slightly over what I was hoping to raise - my goal was $2,000, so I was happy with it. I found out at their tent that the top 2 fundraisers raised over $1,000,000 for thier causes. What an inspiration!

The rest of the day Friday consisted of lunch, 2 hour nap, separating my race stuff into 5 piles on the floor for 5 different bags and Ironman-sponsored pasta dinner + pre-race meeting.

On Saturday, I swam about 1000m (the new goggles were leaking again, so I decided to go with my old pair) and ran 3 miles including running through the finish chute and practicing my finish-chute dance :D Very dorky I know, but I am tired of my ever-the-same finish photo with both arms up in the air. I wanted to do something different for my first Ironman! Decided to save the cartwheel for Kona, and just settle on a little finish line dance.

In the afternoon, we dropped off our bikes + T1 and T2 bags at the transition area. Feels kind of weird to drop it off the day before. I like to be able to see all my transition stuff laid out on a towel a few minutes before I start the race. I mentally went through my transition steps a few times to make sure I didn't forget anything.

Saturday evening we hosted a pre-Ironman pasta dinner at our house for about 15-18 folks including our support crew and fellow Ironman virgins Daniel and Hagen and their support crews. It was such a great time! Our friends had signs, T-shirts and leis made for us. It was so amazing! I didn't expect anything like that! Sure, racing my first Ironman was a big deal for me, but I didn't realize that my friends were so excited about it too. I felt really lucky that evening!

I went to bed at 8:30pm. I dreamt about my race and in my dream I finished in 11:08 (which turned out to be 1 minute off from my actual finish the next day). I am not making this up - the morning of the race I told my friend Mark about my dream in the transistion area - he can confirm :)

Race morning

The alarm was set for 3:30. I woke up at 3:20. Am I the only person this always happens to? When I am excited about something the next day I always wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off... How does our body know when to wake up?

I had a bagel with cream cheese, a glass of OJ, black coffee and a banana for breakfast. It was hard to get it all down, as I still felt full from dinner the night before.

It was kind of nice that we didn't have to worry about any transition stuff in the morning since it was all at the race site already. All I had to bring was my wetsuit/goggles/swim cap and my special needs bags. My plan was to not rely on special needs bags for nutrition and only use them for extra clothes if I had to. I put an extra rain jacket (in addition to the one in swim-to-bike bag) in my bike special needs bag in case it started pouring half way through the bike and a long sleeve tech shirt in my run special needs bag.

At 5:30, our friend Tri drove Daniel and me to the start (didn't feel like walking that .5 miles before my 140.6 day). I dropped off my special needs bags, pumped up the tires on my bike, went to the bathroom one last time, put on my wet suit and had a few minutes left for a few pre-race pics, hugs and good luck wishes.


At that point, I started getting a bit nervous. We decided to fix this situation with a scream-off between Rebecca and I. It felt great to just scream as loud as we could on count 3 :)

5 minutes before the start I headed to my strategic swim start position almost all the way to the right. I didn't have much time for a warmup and to be honest I didn't really feel like I needed any, so I just went into the water and did a couple breast strokes back and forth, but not much more. Back to the beach and... the gun went went off in a couple minutes after that.

Swim 01:21:43

The water was choppier than it was on Friday or Saturday, it was rough out there. I am glad I started all the way to the right. Sure, it meant that my swim was a couple hundred yards longer, but it was nice to have enough room to swim without being constantly wacked on the head by someone next to you. It was still crowded, but totally manageable: there was always room to go around that slow swimmer in front of you or swim out of the way of that fast swimmer who insists on swimming over you because it's the straightest shot to the next buoy.

I kept swimming about 30-50 yards to the right off the buoys on the first lap. I hugged the buoys a bit tighter on my second lap and I was surprised to see that the second lap was a couple minutes slower than the first one. Still not sure how that happened, my AVG HR was around 160 for both laps - maybe the chop got even worse on the second lap?

I am pretty happy with 1:21 for the conditions, but I know I can do better at an IM swim. I know starting all the way to the right was the right strategy for avoiding the violence of the washing machine but maybe not the right strategy for a fast time? Will consult the experts before my next IM swim...

T1 04:45

I took off the top of my wet suit on the run from the beach and then 2 wet suit strippers got the rest of my wetsuit off in like 3 seconds. They rock! I had no problem finding my transition bag, ran into the changing tent and found a volunteer to help me fish out the right stuff out of the transition bag. It wasn't raining so I just wore arm warmers and no jacket, put on helmet, sunglasses and shoes and off I went to get my bike with a quick stop for some sunscreen on my shoulders.

Bike 06:05:58

In every triathlon I do, I get really excited during the part when I just leave the T1 and get up to speed on my bike. With all the spectators watching and cheering, it's kind of electric and I feel like that's when my race really begins. As I exited the transition, I saw Kevin, Ashley, Heather and Rob who cheered me on and I got an extra boost of energy from that.

The happy electric feeling lasted for most of the bike course in this race. After the last 6 months of countless miles on the bike, it was a great feeling to be finally out there riding strong. I pushed pretty hard, sipped my carbo pro every few minutes, thanked volunteers as I passed them and kept smiling at everyone around me. I passed lots of folks on the uphills and then they'd catch me on the downhills.

At about mile 30, I heard "Great job, Lilia" I looked up and saw Hagen as he passed me. I thought that guy was supposed to be way ahead of me by now. I guess he had some stomach issues earlier in the race.

It was windy on the way back into town, but I just kept my HR around 155-160 and kept pedaling away. I didn't look at my average speed or time - decided to just go by effort to make sure I don't start pushing too hard to get to my goal average speed. The first lap was over before I knew it and I checked the clock at that point - I rolled in at just under 3 hours, which was a pleasant surprise, I expected to be a bit slower given how windy it was.

It was great to pass by my fans in downtown CDA and hear them cheer me on again. I was just full of excitement - every minute of the ride so far was such a blast. By that time I finished my 2 carbo pro bottles with 500 KCal in each and moved on to Gatorade that they served on the course - right on schedule according to my nutrition plan.

The wind has definitely picked up on the first out and back stretch, but there were no signs of rain so I didn't have to stop at my special needs bag. I was feeling strong and kept going at the same effort. I passed my friend Jonna about 7-8 miles into the second lap. It was fun to exchange "Go go go" with her.

Around mile 75 or so I started feeling too full (perhaps, I shoved all those Carbo Pro calories down my throat a bit too fast). I felt like I couldn't drink anymore Gatorade, so I picked up a water at the next aid station and took a few sips.

I was happy that I felt almost as good on the climbs as I did on my first lap. I rode happily without drinking or eating much till about mile 90 when I all of a sudden started feeling hungry and a little fatigued. I finished the Gatorade in my aero bottle and ate a few cliff shot blocks that I had in my bento box.

I think it was too late, because I started fading a bit. It wasn't a bad bonk, just couldn't output quite the same power. A few racers who I passed earlier on, passed me back on the final stretch into town. At about mile 100, I felt my legs starting to cramp up. I lowered my gear and increased my cadence and rode it out before it got bad.

Once I hit the final short out and back and the finish line was in sight I was back at full speed ready to finish the bike course strong.

I came in a few minutes slower on the second lap partly due to stronger winds and partly due to getting hungry in the last 30 miles, but I was super happy with my final time of 6:05. That was closer to my ambitious target (6 hours) than to my actual target (6:15).

T2 02:53

A volunteer grabbed my bike and another volunteer had my T2 bag ready for me. I ran into the changing tent where I was welcomed by another volunteer who was helping me change. I put on my AdiZero racers, a vizor and a long-sleeve tech shirt and headed to the run start with a quick bathroom stop on the way out.

Run 03:34:18

I was worried that the cramps that started coming on at the end of the bike would screw up my run, but my legs felt really strong in the first couple miles. I clocked 7:23s for both mile 1 and mile 2 and couldn't believe I could be running that fast after the ride I just finished.

I was too warm so I dropped off my long sleeve t-shirt at the special needs bag at mile 1 - it was nice to be able to just toss it to a volunteer and yell out my number, so I didn't actually have to stop.

On the way out of town I saw Kevin, Ahsley and Heather who were going crazy cheering for me and I went crazy cheering right back - I was screaming and jumping. It was so exciting to be on the last leg and feeling strong.

I took some combination of water, gatorade and coke at each aid station and made sure to grab a banana whenever I could to prevent my legs from cramping up.

I just love the run leg of a triathlon! That's when I get to pass so many people :) I think I end up running even stronger than I would on my own because of that. I passed a pro guy about 4 miles into it. He must have been on his 2nd lap, but he was not looking too good. I told him to hang in there and he cheered me back with "Nice pace!".

At mile 5 I caught up to this girl who was going pretty steady, but I was going faster than her. I was hoping I was passing another girl in my AG, when I realized this was a Pro, Haley Cooper who came in 2nd last year and was in 4th position at the time (she was on her 2nd lap, obviously). I decided that going the same speed as her would be good enough and ran behind her for a bit - we were doing about 8 minute miles. She heard me and kept looking back - she must have thought that another pro was catching up to her. After a 1/2 mile I decided to go back to my own pace and passed her. I just said "Hello" as I went by. She must have been happy to see that I was just an age grouper on my first lap of the run. After another mile I realized that her pacing bike was right ahead of me. Either she picked it up to go at my pace or I slowed down. Anyway, I was running right behind the bike that said "4th Place Female" on it and Haley was a few meters back. She is from Spokane, WA which is just 30 minutes away and she had a lot of people support her on the course. A lot of folks knew what she looks like and cheered for her. But there were still plenty that had no idea what she looked like and they thought that I was the fourth female. It was a great little moment of glory for me :D I just totally rolled with it, kept smiling, cheering and hi-fiving everyone around me. I followed that bike for the rest of the first lap until mile 12 or 13, when she had to split off to go to the finish chute and I had to go on the second lap. I cheered "Go Haley!" at that time and she waved and cheered back - that was nice.

I was worried that I may have to pay for my fast 1st lap by walking part of the second lap. I kept waiting until either my legs would cramp up or I would bonk, but neither ever happened. I just ran strong and consumed coke/gatorade/water/bananas at aid stations.

I saw my friends Daniel, Mark, Rebecca, Bryan, Rahim, Hagen, Matt, Jonna and Cari (all of them racing) on the course multiple times - out and back is great for that - you get to high-five and cheer on your friends.

At mile 21 I got to the point where I got really full again. I even felt like I was about to throw up for a minute. That didn't last long and didn't really slow me down. I just couldn't take in any more food for the rest of the race. I only had a sip of water at mile 24 or so from that point on.

Those last 5 miles were pretty tough. I knew I had enough in me to run all the way in, but I had to dig deep to not slow down or at least control my slowing down. At some point during my second lap it started raining, but it wasn't a big deal until mile 24 when it got really cold and the rain got harder. If I had to run more than 2 more miles I would be worried about getting hypothermic and would have probably grabbed one of those blankets that volunteers were giving out, but with only 2 more miles to go, I figured I could tough it out. I saw my friends Shawn and Deb (who were spectating) around mile 24 and it was nice to get a cheer from someone I knew - it helped me go a little faster!

As soon as I turned onto Sherman and saw the finish line I forgot all about how tired and cold I was. I was running fast and strong, passing a few more folks along the way. I was feeling really happy and emotional those last few blocks before the finish line. I heard Kevin, Heather and Ashley scream and cheer when I was within a block or so.

When I entered the finish chute - I high-fived the folks on each side of the chute. As I came closer to the finish line, I did my little dance and jumped as high as I could when I was actually crossing the line at 11h 09m 35s . The finish line photo came out great!

Rob was volunteering as a finish line catcher and he saw me coming in so he caught me at the finish line. It was great to land into the arms of a friend at the finish line. After I got my medal and pictures taken I came out of the finish area and saw Kevin, Ashley, Heather and Brad who watched me finish as well and informed me that I was 4th in my AG. That was great news!

Post race

First things first, I headed to get a free massage. There was no line and it sounded really good. I spent about 10-15 minutes in there - the guy mostly worked on my legs and it fealt great. I grabbed some salty pretzels and water - I didn't really want anything else given that I was still full from my run.

I was really cold - so I bundled up into 2 fleeces and 2 jackets and sat in the car for 15 minutes with the heat at full blast trying to warm up.

Then we walked over to a nearby bar where we met up Hagen and Jamie. I was craving some french fries and a beer sounded good too. I ended up eating 1/2 a veggie burger, french fries and drinking 2 beers.

Then we went back outside to watch Rebecca finish. It was great to be out there cheering for the athletes running through the last few blocks before the finish line. I kind of wish I stayed out there until midnight like last year. Rebecca came through the finish right around her target time. After she got enough pizza and water we had to get her in the car to warm her up as she had the same chill in her bones as I did when I finished.

I had another beer when I got home and went to sleep at about 11pm. I slept well :)

Overall comments

WOW! What an amazing weekend! I was worried about all that post-ironman blues stuff that I heard about, but I am not sure what people are talking about. I was in the state of euphoria starting from the day before the race, throughout the whole race pretty much and for 2 days after the race.

It is such a long and interesting journey - all the training and races that I did in the last 6 months. All the mornings when I had to make myself get out of bed at 6am to come to the swim class or ride my bike to work leading up to this one day have finally paid off!

The course is fantastic! The bike course, while challenging, definitely allows for some fast splits if you pace yourself right. The run, being out and back is great to see other friends racing and cheer them on. Great spectator course given that we go by the transition area 6 times on the bike and 4 times on the run.

The event is tremendously well organized. I guess you couldn't expect less from an Ironman brand race. Volunteers and spectators were simply amazing - they had to work out there in the rain all day too and they weren't moving as fast, so they were colder than us, I am sure. Pasta dinner Friday night and the awards banquet Monday morning were quite a treat as well.

Oh yeah, almost forgot! On Monday, after the race I headed down to the Kona rolldown and it turned out that the 2nd girl in my AG already had a slot from some other race she did. Guess who got a Kona slot? Lilia did! :D

Wow! I still haven't fully digested the fact that I am going to Kona in October! Yes - that means I have to get back into training mode fairly soon given that the race is less than 4 months away. But OMG - I will get to swim in the Pacific Ocean, ride on lava-covered terrain and run in Kailua-Kona along side with Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander! Can you believe that???

Could this weekend get any happier?

The answer is Yes, because when I got back home I found out that I became an aunt! Yep, my sister just had a baby boy. Future ironman :D I am a bit in the happiness overload right now!

Thanks Yous

HUGE thanks to all of you who donated to Doctors Without Borders on my behalf: Liana, Tahg, Chad, Amy, Dee, Paolo, Rahul, Gina, Kevin, Russell, Adri, Tim, Brian, Richard, Shawn, Tim, Ali, Anu, Irina, Fred, Emre, Monica, Dan, Michael. Special thanks to Cam who threw a party to help me meet my goal and to all of you who partied with us and supported DWB (there are too many names to list)!

FAT thanks to Rebecca and Daniel for being great training buddies throughout this Ironman adventure and to Mark for giving me lots of very insightful advice and feedback on my training.

MANY thanks to Rob, Ashley, Heather, Tri, Kevin and Sid for coming out to Coeur d'Alene to support us on race day - we had the best fans. MORE thanks to Kevin for putting up with my 15-20 hour training weeks in the last 6 months.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Final Couple Weeks before the Big Day

12 more days till my big race. Tic. Tac. Tic. Tac. After all the training in the last 5.5 months, I am really looking forward to the Ironman.

On one hand I am a bit worried. Worried about the swim, especially the first 500 meters or so. I've heard enough horror stories about people being kicked, elbowed, swam over, etc. Worried that the water will be too cold. Worried about going out too hard in the first half of the bike ride. Worried about blowing up on the run. Worried about not getting enough calories. Worried about consuming too many calories...

On the other hand, just like before a big test at school, I won't get any more prepared and fit for this event than I am now, so I just want it over with so that I can stop worrying about all that stuff.

Here's what I've invested into this endeavour so far this year:
  • swam 175,000 yards, which is almost twice the distance I swam in 2008

  • biked 2,600 miles, which is as much as in 2008

  • ran a little over 400 miles, which is less than I'd like... lots of injuries this year :(

Most of my training weeks were between 14 and 17 hours of training. My biggest week in the cycle was about 20 hours of swimming/biking/running including a weekend training camp in Coeur D'Alene when I covered the full Ironman distance over the course of 3 days and felt really strong doing it. Feels like that was a long time ago now. I hope I am still as fit as I felt that weekend.

I am now officially "tapering", which means I am only training about 6-8 hours a week during these last couple weeks. I am not doing any long or intense workouts either. I feel a bit like a slacker for not doing my 2 workouts a day and not putting in monstrous workouts on the weekends. The idea is that I let my body completely recover, catch up on sleep, rebuild my muscles and replenish my energy supplies. I want to hit that start line very fit, rested and healthy.

If I manage not to screw anything up in these last few days or get sick, hopefully I'll be able to hit some or all of my goals. I always have multi-level goals so that I can feel accomplished and happy even if I don't meet the most ambitious ones, e.g.:

  1. First and foremost, finish strong and healthy

  2. Finish under 12 hours (1h:20m swim, 6h:30m bike, 4h run)

  3. Finish under 11.5 hours if I feel really speedy (1h:15m swim, 6h:20m bike, 3h:45m run)

Unlike my usual summers (when I have all the races planned out for the season), I am intentionally not signed up for any other events this year after the Ironman. There is a good chance I will be too tired of structured triathlon training after this and ready for some spontaneous hiking/trail running/cycling somewhere far and pretty/rock climbing - you name it :-) The risk is that I may not feel motivated to do anything at all if I am not committed, but I'll worry about that once I am done with the Ironman.

Wish me luck and please help me reach my fundraising goal of $2000 for Doctors Without Borders by donating at

Thank you so much to those of you who have already donated! Your support makes it possible for people in emergency situations around the world to receive much needed urgent medical care.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Issaquah Sprint Race Report


I wasn't planning on doing this race, but a lot of my friends were doing it and the weather was promising to be gorgeous on race day, so I decided what the heck and signed up for the race last minute - at 3pm on Friday the day before the race. Unlike before most of my races, I had a pretty normal Friday evening: went out for dinner with some friends and had a couple beers. Not having to worry too much about nutrition and going to bed early prior to a race is a luxury - I love sprints! :-)

I got my stuff packed the night before. In the morning I got up at 5:30, had some oatmeal and headed to Lake Sammamish State Park. It's quite a big event for a local tri - almost 1000 participants in the tri, plus duathlon and 5K/10K folks, so there was some traffic near the park, but I still made it to transition by 6:30 or so, 50 minutes before my start.

I set up the transition area where I ran into my friend Rebecca (who also signed up last minute with me). Then I headed to the beach via the Honey Buckets. They did a good job with the number of bathrooms given the number of people at the event - there was no line. At the beach I ran into a few more friends and wished everyone good luck.

As I was going into the water for my warmup I saw my boss (who also races triathlons and is actually training for the same Ironman as me). As we chatted about the race ahead I mentioned that since he's starting 5 minutes before me I shouldn't see him during the race unless he has a flat or something. Sure enough, turns out he got a flat on his ride. Oops.

I swam about 100-200 yards to warm up. Water was nice and toasty; it felt even warmer than on the day before when I swam in the same lake. Finally, Women 29 and under lined up at the swim start.

Swim - 400 meters - 6:20 (1:35/100m)

The swim course was short for a sprint - only 400 meters, so I knew I could hammer it pretty hard. Even though I am an average swimmer, I lined up right at the front. I feel that it's a good experience for the Ironman to be right up there. Indeed, the first 100m was the most violent triathlon swim experience in my racing history. I got pushed and elbowed, nearly swam over a couple times, but I survived. After the first bouy, I was passing a lot of those girls who were so eager to swim over me in the first 50 meters, but realized that they went out too hard... Oh well, noobes :) The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful - I swam hard and kept a close eye on the buoys on the left. It was over very soon and I ran full speed back to the transition.

T1 - 1:56

Pretty good transition, no issues taking off the wetsuit and getting into my bike shoes. Still, I am certainly on the slower side compared to the other girls in the top of my AG. Need to work on it I guess.

Bike - 15 miles - 39:58 (22.5mph)

I believe the bike was short. I've never hit 22.5 before even on a TT, but I like this number, so I'll leave it up there :)

The bike was an out and back on the E Lake Sammamish Parkway. During the first and last mile both ways were on the same side of the road sharing a shoulder, separated by cones. Naturally, this created some congestion as it was very hard to pass and there were folks of all different abilities out there. I went as hard as I could when I could. I maintained good form and only had to swith to the smaller chain ring once for the last hill at mile 9 or 10. There were a few times when I got stuck behind slower people in the first and last mile, but it wasn't that bad.

T2 - 1:21

Again, I felt that it was pretty fast, but it's one of the slowest in the top 10 women, so I could certainly work on it... If I shaved off 40 seconds combined from my T1 and T2, I would have placed 3rd in my AG instead of 5th... But then again, during an Ironman, transition times are a much smaller portion of your total race time percentage-wise, so I guess, it's not as important.

Run - 3 miles - 19:35 (6:31 min/mile)

It was a cross-country style course with some trails, grass and a little bit of pavement. I love that kind of terrain - reminds me of trail running. Felt awesome and charged the whole way. I just kept passing people and setting my eyes on the next *victim*. Pretty happy with my performance. I had the fastest split amongst women.

Overall - 1:09:11, 5th in AG, 9th in Women, 82nd overall

Great local race to kick off the tri season. It's great to go out there and see so many familiar faces. :)