My second IRONMAN of 2021 (4 weeks after Tulsa), and while this got off to a rocky start (American Airlines changed terminal 3 times and then delayed the flight by 3 hours as they couldn’t find a crew) once I was actually at the Coeur D’Alene (CDA) resort (where I stayed) I quickly started to love CDA! The driver that picked me up from the airport (Steve) was just the nicest person and had lived in CDA a long time. I choose to arrive on Thursday for the Sunday event in case there were flight issues and obviously glad I did. I had registered for a 9am Friday IRONMAN registration time so it really didn’t matter what time I arrived Thursday.
A week before all talk on the forum had changed from water temperature (definitely wet suit legal, around 65) to the outside temperature which was at one point up to around 102 but in the end it was 100 degrees so, well still horrible. My plan (like Tulsa) was to basically drink water with Nuun (electrolytes) for the 3 days leading up so I would be well hydrated. Water on it’s own will actually flush out your electrolytes and they even stressed that during the athlete briefing.
Check-in at CDA resort had been online so once I arrived it took 30 seconds for them to check my name and give me my room key. Up to my room in the tower (5th floor) and WOW. The view was just amazing. I unpacked and tried to get to sleep.
I woke up at 1:15am (2 hour time difference and I normally get up at 3am CST) and hotel gym didn’t open until 6am so that was no good. I therefore decided to run outside. So at 2am I went for a 6 mile gentle run around the town and must have said to myself at least 5 times “wow, this place is beautiful”. It had lots of nice little stores, the kind you see in the movies in small towns. This is where I need to retire to! Once back to the room, showered, did a bit of work and at 5:40 went for the 1 mile walk to the Lakeside store to buy milk and a few other things (that opened at 6am). Was a nice little store and the checkout lady was very friendly and chatty.
Back at the room ran to they gym for 15 minutes of quick weights, attended a work meeting then had cereal. The IRONMAN village was 5 minutes from the resort so at about 8:45 I headed out for registration which was super fast. No flag, no poster and a generic back pack (booo) and like Tulsa you got your number assigned at the registration so no names on the bibs, I got 1087. You also picked up a card for bike check-in time slot for Saturday. I grabbed a 9-10.
Then through the store where bought a few things and, like Tulsa, the finisher gear was already available. Quite a few vendors in the village and then grabbed my bike from TriBike and back to the hotel counting the minutes until I could eat lunch!
Lunch was pizza at Fire Pizza which was tasty. I looked around the stores, bought some things at the dog store, toy store and candy store (for the family, honest) and then back to the hotel. On my way into the resort I saw Lionel Sanders and he was kind enough to take a selfie!
I had to record my Azure weekly update video which took about an hour to record/edit and then packed my “bags”. Now, CDA in 2021 is a “traditional” transition and this was evident (and had been communicated in advance) that there were no run or bike transition bags. You got a morning clothes bag (not really sure why) and then bike/run special needs. With a traditional transition you have a larger area at the bike rack but all you gear is just at the bike rack however you organize it. They said they had six bikes per rack instead of the normal ten to give you more space. This means you basically take everything down with you Sunday. The only thing you drop off Saturday is your bike! I always put my gear in a zip lock bag anyway so I just prepared my gear the same way. All of my nutrition is in the fridge hoping to try and keep it slightly cooler for as long as possible.
I watched the athlete briefing (there was also in person options). Dinner was spaghetti bolognese at Tito’s (and cheesy garlic bread AND the awesome garlic loaf they just brought out, so much food) and after that was just back to the hotel to relax. Sleep at 7 and hopefully up at 3.
Well, woke up at 2am and had a little 2 hour walk at about 4am and it was already starting to get light. It is because of how early it gets light IM CDA starts at 5am for the professionals and 5:35 for the age groupers. The 5:35 is to allow the pros to complete the first lap before us age groupers get in their way. I sat around watching movies then checked my bike in at 9am then proceeded to just focus on relaxing, hydrating and pizza for lunch then pasta with chicken for dinner. Like Tulsa I showered, put on my tritats and applied my first layer of sunscreen. 7pm bed time with alarm set for 2am since transition opens at 4am.
I didn’t really sleep well and at 2am got up had some chocolate milk, a blueberry bagel and just continued hydrating. I put on another layer of sunscreen and tried to relax. At 3:50 I left the room and headed to the single transition that would be home base all day! Weather forecast was still calling for 100 degrees!
This next part is after the event as I sit at the airport waiting to fly home. Brutal, that is the only word that sums it up, just brutal. The air temperature did indeed hit 100 however when you consider the roads radiate the heat (and are designed to for melting snow) the actual conditions were worse. When the pros finished (which was just as it was getting the hottest) a reporter on the local news showed the asphalt was 135 degrees so no clue what it would have been 5 hours later after 100 degrees. You were being cooked from both directions. My bike computer said it registered 109 as the max. After all the smoke cleared out of 2085 people who started the day, only 1535 finished, 26.4% DNF (did not finish) including a number of pros like Heather Jackson and Lauren Brandon. Lionel Sanders also suffered stomach issues and finished an hour behind the winner, Sam Long. The average DNF for IRONMAN is 5% (7% for Kona).
But I did finish, it was just hell pretty much for the majority of the time 🙂 Let’s rewind.
You setup everything at your spot. I opted to just put my bags under my bike, I didn’t lay anything out but others laid down a towel and arranged everything ready. Whatever worked for the individual.
The swim was a basically an out and back two loop affair. You get out of the water briefly between loops to run over a timing mat and then back out again (this proves you actually did 2 loops not 1). It was a self seed based on estimated finish time and they let 3 people in every 5 seconds. There was the opportunity to quickly get in the water so acclimatize then rejoin the queue if you wanted to (no thanks, I’ll just take the shock when I start :-)). The water was about 70 degrees and felt great. I had no issues in my sleeveless wet suit other than my hands getting a little cold. The water was pretty clear and overall a nice swim. I got kicked in the head pretty hard once and hit in the head once which was mainly people zigzagging around. I think everyone is a bit out of practice 🙂 I really liked the two loops, the swim felt shorter being broken up into basically 4 parts, swim out, swim back then repeat. I’m going to try and focus on that in future swims as often I have no clue how far I’ve gone nor how much further. There were great volunteers to help you out the water between loops and at the end (but like Tulsa, no wet suit strippers, you were on your own). Swim time was 45 minutes first lap and 50 the second lap. I think the second lap was slightly longer if you consider lap 2 you have to cut back over so overall I think were similar speeds.
On to the bike. My transition was very slow (15 minutes). I was taking time to apply more sunscreen etc but honestly given the projected heat I knew it was going to be a “finish” day as opposed to any time goal. The bike was two loops. There was lots of discussion about how much elevation gain there really was. Officially it was 7000, some bike computers said 5300. My watch said one number and the bike computer a completely different one but I would say it was hilly. There were a couple of very LONGGG climbs. Now what goes up must come down and you got to go down fast which was fun but you spent a lot of time going up hills. There was a do not pass section on one of the big down hills which was understandable given the bit of road we had but frustrating. I along with a few others got stuck behind someone just riding their breaks the entire time down on the first loop. They need to ride their race and it was no wrong doing for them, just sucked it impacted us 🙂
There were plenty of well stocked aid stations and made a point of replacing water and Gatorade at every aid station to get cold ones. The heat was OK on the first loop and as I started the second loop I was feeling pretty good and confident. That would not last.
It was getting hotter as I started the second loop and everything was just a bit tougher. I stuck to my nutrition and drinking (a waffle every hour and a gel every hour combined with water/Nuun and Gatorade) but for the entire second loop didn’t pee once (compared to twice on the first loop) and it did occur to me “I’m not drinking enough”. It was just harder. I wasn’t a huge amount slower but was slower. I wasn’t putting out the same power. Towards the end it was at the 100 degrees (but actually hotter because of the ground radiation) but it was very dry so you were not pouring with sweat, it just evaporated. My shorts and shirt were just crusted with salt. As I was finishing my loop 2 I saw people starting the loop and about half were pushing their bikes up the first climb. Very rarely have I seen people pushing bikes up the hills and these were not super steep, just very long and I remember feeling so sorry for these people that were going to be pushing bikes up a lot of hills in bike shoes which would be torture. My feet were hurting a little and I think they were basically cooking. But all that said I was quite happy with my bike time given the hilly course and very tough conditions. I sat for nearly the entire ride and my cadence was about 70 the entire time and tried to keep average power about 190 when peddling but obviously with all the hills there were periods much higher and periods of 0 (when I was going wheeee down hill).
At transition my leg cramped up for about 3 seconds when I lifted it over the bike to dismount but that was the only time I had any cramping in my legs (phew). Once again I took time to put on more sunscreen but my protein bar had melted into sludge and was inedible and my 5 hour energy was the temperature of coffee and not drinkable. I had put them both in a little thermal wallet so that test failed 🙂 back to the drawing board. My gel was also really hot but that I had to just take. My plan for the run was to adjust my speed to keep heart rate below 135. Well, my heart rate was 135 before starting so, yeah. Also I didn’t need to pee at T2 so I was pretty sure I was dehydrated big time so decided to walk a little to try and rehydrate but the problem is once you go into a deficit its hard to recover especially when you are still moving in 100 degree sunshine with more radiating up from the pavement under you.
My nutrition plan was a gel every 20 minutes and occasionally grab some potato chips when available. I had some Nuun to add to water in a little bottle but didn’t have many left after the bike so that was a problem. For the first hour I was able to run/walk and did the first of 3 loops in 2 hours however as I started the second loop I realized a number of things.
Firstly the crowds were amazing. The locals were so supportive. So many people were out with hoses drenching us to help cool us down. There were people giving out ice pops during loop 1 & 2 (they had gone by loop 3) and those ice pops were almost life changing events. In my head angels were singing. In total I had 2 orange and 2 grape ice pops. Those people are hero’s and statues of them handing out ice pops should be forged in bronze and put out on the lake shore to remind us of them forever. But I digress. All those amazing people with hoses soaking us was great, it helped cool us but there is something else jets of water does, it washes off all the sunscreen that was not even applying that well anyway because of how messed up my skin was. So as I started loop 2 I realized my legs, hands, back were all getting burnt. I kept applying more sunscreen but was not applying well and then could not use the hoses anymore so wasn’t cooling down. I decided not getting badly burned was more important than cooling given I got second degree sunburn during my first IRONMAN back in 2015 Texas.
The second thing I noticed was the idea of Gatorade, gels was now repulsive to me. I just didn’t want to drink Gatorade or eat gel. I knew I needed the calories but my body was just rejecting it. I could force down sips of Gatorade and a bit of gel but not much so that meant now I was dehydrated and not getting enough calories. Yay, only 17 miles to go. I decided to not really try and run on the second loop and to instead try to focus on getting my body working again by drinking more but ultimately all I could do was slow the decline 🙂 By loop 3 I was struggling and any running was exhausting. My sun burn was worse BUT at least the sun was setting during my 3rd loop so less direct sun and more shadow so the sun burn problem went away. About 4 miles left I drank a bit of chicken broth and Pepsi and helped a little. At this point my lips and hands were tingling a lot which for me is a sign of imminent crashing (I think its blood sugar too low) and the Pepsi/broth helped. With only 2 miles to go I was struggling so much.
During this whole time I was passing people passed out on the ground being tended to by the amazing fire department and volunteers. People were throwing up all around. I made a point to ask people if they were OK which is pretty stupid really “oh yes I’m fantastic, I just decided to stop and pretend I’m dying laying on the ground/throwing up over this tree, thanks for asking”. No one replied like that but mentally they all said that to me.
I had not slept well last few nights and it was now late so I was mentally tired as well consider the 2 hour difference from Texas and the fact I normally go to sleep at 8pm. Even though I only had 2 miles to go it actually crossed my mind to just fall on the floor so this would end but I quickly came to my senses and plodded on. As the finish line approached and I turned the final corner I started “running”. In my head I was running but I suspect my body was doing something no one else would call running but whatever. As I crossed the finish line and Mike Reilly called out “John Savill YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” it was worth it. I remember looking up at him, giving him a thumb up and he gave me a big old smile.
As I crossed the finish line my legs just went and the volunteers caught me. They proceeded to hold me up, get my medal, hat and t-shirt then walked/carried me to the photo spot. “You better be quick with this one” they said to the photographer. They kept asking if anyone was with me and seemed concerned I didn’t and wanted to take me to medical.
I told them I just needed food so they got me to the food tent and it was bratwurst in buns!! I thought it would be pizza and it did not seem appealing but I needed food. I got a brat in a bun, put on ketchup and took a bite. Fireworks exploded into the sky, harps gently played. It was amazing and I instantly felt better. I ate the whole thing, went to transition and packed up my stuff. Took my bike to Tri Bike Transport then went back to the food tent to get a second one which was an equally life changing experience as the first. I walked the few hundred yards to the resort and collapsed on the bed.
Once I had a little rest I had 3 glasses of chocolate milk, a Twix finger, showered, applied silver skin lotion on my burns and went to bed where I didn’t sleep a wink all night as usual. At 4 I just got up, showered again and went for a little walk. I took some pictures of the medal 🙂
IRONMAN even used my picture in the Medal Monday post which was cool 🙂 The Facebook forum was full of people discussing how it was the hardest IRONMAN ever and it was the certainly the hardest one I have ever done. The bike course was tough and the heat just destroyed. Kudos to everyone whether you finished or not. If you DNF’d don’t let this stop you from trying another. This was an anomaly and they are not normally THIS hard!
I would just like to thank everyone involved. It was a fantastic day even in harsh conditions. The IRONMAN team, the volunteers, the crowds, the police, medical, fire department, everyone was just awesome. Without them I never would have finished. You are all amazing! Thank you!
Finally a huge thank you to my amazing wife for supporting me on my never ending crazy goals 🙂