Matt Gervais - Ironman Couer D'Alene 2014

Ironman Couer D’Alene 2014 Race Report – Kona Qualified in 9:52:36 (M30-34)

Winter and Spring of 2014 (The Year of Matt or Y.O.M.) had gone pretty much as expected.  I had probably put down some faster run times than I thought I would in the early season, but the Achilles injury hit me hard again in early April so my run training really paid for it.  From mid-March until my race at Triple T, I hadn’t run over 10 miles even once and was running only two times a week, and occasionally 3 including a short brick.  Anyway, Triple T had definitely gone well in terms of pacing and endurance, so I went into Couer D’Alene feeling a lot more confident than I had felt in early May.


I was still planning to treat Couer D’Alene as a race to kind of gauge my fitness and figure out which changes I needed to make prior to what would be my ultimate goal of racing well at Ironman Mont Tremblant and hopefully obtaining a slot to Kona in that race.  I told myself that either way, it’d be great experience.  We stayed about 4 miles away from the Ironman venue.  Russ booked us a great place on the Spokane River between Couer D’Alene and Post Falls.  It was very unfortunate that Russ was unable to join us, but Blaire and I were very pleased with the room.  We shared part of a condo with a few other people and one other racer from Montreal.  Andrew Bridgen and Mary Minutella were also racing so we had met for a few meals prior to the race, but the night before we were on our own with some pizza take out (stone baked), 1 beer and a classic movie called “Forest Gump.”  Spent most of the night at the condo with my feet up.

Maybe you've heard of it
We woke up the next morning to howling winds and only 10 degrees Celcius.  The temperature was no surprise, but the wind definitely was.  Alarm on race morning was set for 3:45.  Always seems insanely early, but we get up at 4:30am most mornings to train anyway, and the fact that the sun is beginning to light up the sky by about 4:15, it didn’t seem that early at all.  Very weird that it is as bright as the middle of the day by 4:45am out there.  We met Mary at her hotel for 4:45 and took a shuttle down to the race start.  

The morning from there seemed to be one of my most relaxing Ironman mornings  Since I didn’t expect too much, I was very relaxed and feeling stress free.  Race day jitters are usually at their maximum on Ironman mornings, especially when you have big expectations, so it was nice to be able to just relax.  Having Blaire there as support (and not a racer) was a monster help as well.  

She really does
We brought a pump so we wouldn’t have to wait for the race tech’s to max out our tires pre race.  I pumped my tires and up to just over 100psi and just like that, the rear tire blew.  The good news is that of about 9 or 10 Ironman brand races, I’ve flatted in 4 of them, so it was nice to get this flat out of the way before the race.  The other thing is that when people see you with a pump in transition pre race, you become everyone’s best friend.  While I was changing the tire, I essentially had a line up next to me for people wanting to borrow my pump for themselves and all their friends.  Thank God I was so chill. Fixed the flat with no more issues and Mary and I got down to the beach for the race start.  No idea where Andrew was because he generously went to drop off my special needs bags when he saw I had a flat to change.  

I was actually really impressed with Andrew’s demeanour and overall attitude towards the race.  This being his first one, he was able to stay unusually relaxed and aloof and seemed to just enjoy taking it all in.  

Anyway, Blaire gave me a hug, gave me some last minute reminders and tips, wished me luck and Mary and I headed down to the beach.  I wished Mary luck and dropped her off somewhere on the way to the sub 60 minute corral.  The pros were in the water at this point, but they started 40 minutes ahead to make sure they could get around the first lap before we started.  We had about 25 minutes on the beach before our official swim start of 6:40am, but I opted not to get into the water prior to the start.  There were plenty of athletes that did, but when they came out they were all dripping wet and freezing.  I decided to do my warm up of arm swings and calm meditation on the beach by myself with my socks on to keep my feet warm.  I’ve always said that shivering before the start of a race is the biggest waste of enrergy and can have the tendency to really gas you before the gun even fires.  It was great to be on the beach to see Potts come around the turn solo with an already 3:30 lead over the 3 man chase in the insanely choppy conditions.  That guy is an absolute animal.

I think I'm the guy with the green cap

Swim – 58:49
I was not a big fan of the rolling swim start.  All my previous Ironmans have been a mass start, so I’m used to a 100m wide area with the sub 60 guys seeding themselves at the front and spread out over that area.  My goal for the swim was a sub 55, so I expected to be starting near the front of the sub 60 group.  There were about 100 guys that seemed to want to start in that group, and it seemed that all 100 also wanted to be the first through the start schute and out onto the swim course.  When the canon fired, I was about 5 rows back (of maybe 9 or 10 across), and was absolutely pummeled by guys pushing, shoving and punching their way onto the straightest line to the first buoy.  Again, I’m used to all these guys kind of converging on the first turn, not all on top of one another as soon as we hit the water.  Add to that, we were swimming into the current and the wind, it made for a very rough first leg of the swim.  Easily the roughest I’ve ever had.  It seemed the group didn’t break up at all until well after the first turn around and back into shore.  With about 200m left of the first loop, I surged out of my group and set my sights on reaching the next group of about 5 guys.  I figured if I didn’t reach them before exiting the water, I’d catch them running on the beach and have a nice ride out to the first turn again.  That plan definitely worked as I caught them on the way back in and left the rest of the group behind.  What I didn’t count on was that with the rough conditions on the swim, we were already lapping people on their first loop by about the 2nd or 3rd buoy.  The last people were in the water only 18 minutes behind us, so this means they had only completed about 300m of the course in their first 10-15 minutes of swimming.  They had a long day ahead of them.  The congestion got worse and worse on the way out to the turn around.  I was constantly running into dog paddlers and breast strokers, and occasionally would have to reroute my line due to kayaks or SUP’s sitting lengthwise across the best line because there were 4 or 5 swimmers hanging on to the side.  Coming back into shore once again seemed nice and fast, but myself and the one guy I was with had to swim zig zags all the way back in.  At about the second last buoy, I’m pretty sure I saw Mary.  I thought about saying hi, but figured I should just swim on.  Oh, I also wanted to mention that I lapped two separate guys swimming with snorkels.  I thought that was pretty weird.  Anyway, first lap was 28 minutes and change, second lap was 30.  I guess I can conclude that swimming a straight line while getting kicked and punched is still faster than swimming zig zags without making contact.  I wasn’t particulary happy with the swim split, but I was still onto the bike in 1:01, and was in about 15th position of all the age groupers.

The only swim picture of me is this one overhead shot.
Don't know how Blaire got it.

T1 – 2:57
Nothing major to report here.  Very simple transition.  I had a flask of Infinit run that I was able to chug on my run from the change tent to my bike and then just toss.  I had a pair of socks cut to use as throwaway arm warmers as well.  When it took me more than about 5 seconds to get one of them on, I opted to just leave them behind.  Ironman Florida in 2006 was much colder and they were necessary that dayd, but today I had no issues with cold.  I also remembered to stop at the sunscreen station.  I was caked well with sunscreen as is evident from a few photos Blaire got of me mounting my bike, however they missed a couple of key areas (lower back tramp stamp aerea, and part of my left shoulder).  I got completely roasted to the point of blistering on those spots.

Excess sunscreen

Bike – 5:27:23
This bike course looked to be made for me.  It was nice to get out on the bike with very minimal traffic.  I only had about 14 or 15 guys ahead of me, other than the pros who began 40 minutes ahead, so it was easy to gauge how I was doing in comparison because this course has 4 turn-arounds before the finish.  I continued to see the same guys throughout the whole ride, and no one seemed to be gaining from behind, or really accelerating away ahead of me, except for a few guys.  I was surprised at how hard so many of the guys were pushing the hills.  I had figured ahead of time that I could average about 210-215 watts on the bike to have a decent run.  I was planning to do this by essentially flattening out the course, and target roughly that power output for the entire bike.  I figured I could allow myself about 10-15 watts more on the climbs to make up for some of the coasting on the downhills when I was spinning out, but for the most part, I would stick to the plan of 215 watts as a max effort.  It got frustrating pretty early because of the maybe 10 guys that passed me in the first 60km, 9 of them were in my age group.  I couldn’t believe it.  Guys were passing me on the major climbs and were so far ahead by the top that I could no longer even see them anymore, let alone catch them before the next climb.  The first short out and back was pretty simple and wind played very little factor.  At about the 23km mark we were headed back out of town at about the 24km mark.  The next turn around would be about 32km later, all uphill, and into a brutal headwind.  I was finding out very soon that there would be no coasting on the way out, and any downhill that existed was pretty well scrubbed out by the headwind.  I had to do a lot of my climbing in the aero position, and had a terrible time finding a suitable place to pee off the bike while coasting.  I gotter’ done, but it wasn’t easy!  Once at the turnaround, it was a lot more fun to hold my 215 watts.  I covered the next 35km back to town in under 50 minutes.  There were times when I was climbing at 45-48km/hr with the tail wind.  There was also about a 10-15km section where I don’t believe I dropped below 62km/hr.  It was a nice stretch.  I finished the first loop in just a shade over 2:40.  Normalized power for lap one was 211 watts.
Going into the second loop, I was making spots back up like crazy.  

Lap 1

I decided on the first 22km out and back section, that because of the wind, I would push a little harder on the climbs on the second lap, and relax a little more on the return into town going into T2 because I would also have the tail wind and a much easier time carrying speed and momentum.  I began climbing the next few big climbs in the low 230 watt range.  I was still getting dropped by the big climbers, but now I was catching them once on the flats in the headwind, and on the decents.  Unfortunately at about the 140km mark, this plan began to prove to be a good idea on paper, but not in practice.  My hamstrings began cramping pretty severely to point where I had to coast on uphills and flats in order to stretch.  This really hurt my speed as I had to stand up constantly to do this and I was still riding into this very stiff headwind.  Guys were coming by me pretty quick.  Once gain, they all seemed to be in my age group.  The final 6km to the last turn around was a real struggle, but once there, I knew I could coast a bit, take in some major calories, then open back up again to average 40km/hr + for the final 35km but at a wattage of only about 190.  I began to feel better and minimized some of the damage by passing about 4 or 5 of my competitors back again on the way back into town.  Unfortunately, being a two loop bike as well, there were a lot of slower riders that were a lap behind (I began lapping people at around 115km so the first lappers were only 25km into their ride.  Once again, LONG day), and there were two “No Pass Zones” that were marked on the course where if you are caught passing, you would be assessed a penalty.  I was riding with a guy I had just passed going into the first no-pass zone on a major decent.  I didn’t want to get stuck behind slower riders when I had the opportunity to push hard at about 75km/hr for a good 3km decent, so I got out of the saddle and sprinted by two slower riders just before entering the zone.  Very glad I did.  I’m not sure if the guy behind me got by them or not.  It didn’t really matter though because while I got by them, and had a great fast decent, I hit the next no pass zone over a bridge carrying about 55km/hr and had to jam the breaks because of a slower rider.  Had to ride single file behind that rider for the duration of the zone (about 500m) and two riders caught me from behind.  The girl I had caught was riding in a pedal, pedal coast fashion, so being only about 2km from the finish of my 180km ride, I was not loving having to sit behind her, but them’s the rules!  All these issues on the second lap of the bike wound up costing me about 6 – 6:30 on the second half for an overall split of 5:27.  Funny thing is, I had about 7 guys in my age group getting off the bike all within about 1 minute on either side of my finish so it definitely makes sense that it seemed everyone I saw on the course was in my age group.  Once again, entered transition in about 15th or 16th placed age grouper.  Normalized Power for the second lap was 203 watts.

One of my "faster" looking copywritten images
Lap 2

T2 – 2:32
I’ve heard stories, and have seen peoples shoes get knocked off their bike and lost in T2, so I decided to undo my shoes on the bike, but dismount with them on my feet then quickly take them off to run into transition with them in my hand.  Again, good idea on paper, but like a bumbling idiot, I dropped them almost instantly and with my sideways and backwards equilibrium from my five and a half hour ride, I just about face planted while making smoothly trying to pick it back up.  Other than the shoe drop, I had another decent transition and made another stop at the sunscreen station to get lubed up.  I left transition feeling pretty good.  Not fresh, but good.

Run – 3:20:55
As in any Ironman, it’s tough to wrap your head around the fact that you have a marathon ahead of you.  It’s probably better not to call it a marathon.  Just call it a VERY LONG RUN.  Many times during my run, I believe I referred to it as “My own personal Hell.”
I was planning to shoot for an average of about 7:15-7:20 per mile for the marathon.  I know I am capable of much faster, but once again, my lack of run training put me way behind where I wanted to be and I didn’t want to have to walk the second half of the marathon.  I knew 7:15 was a pretty manageable pace no matter what happened.  The run was a 2 loop, out-and-back course.  These are always great courses in an Ironman because you get to watch the pro race unfold, you get to take inventory of the guys ahead and behind you, and you get to see your supporters (Blaire) on the course at least 4 times.  
Mad supporter skills

For the first 4 miles or so, I had a really hard time holding back.  I couldn’t believe how fast I was running for the minimal effort, but I also couldn’t believe that the guys in the distance weren’t coming back to me at this fast pace.  There are only about 2 major climbs per lap.  The rest of the run course, aside from a few short steep inclines or long false flats, is pretty well flat.  The first loop was just kind of a cruise.  I felt great up to about 8 miles, good to about 10 miles, then OK to the half way point.  I hit the half in about 1:36, and guys were starting to come back to me.  Blaire was screaming at me at about the 12 mile mark, and again at mile 14 that even though I looked like shit, I looked better than the guys ahead.  She also let me know I was pretty much on my own to figure out what place I was in.  I had gotten some splits from her throughout the race, but with calf sleeves, and the new “All World Athlete” initiative, it’s impossible to tell what age group people are on the course.  She was only able to figure it out by going to a coffee shop with the IPad when she wasn’t chasing me on the course.  I had figured I was in about 6th or 7th place at halfway on the run and it looks like we were right. 

Special Needs was at about the 13 mile mark.  All I had in special needs was a few more salt tabs, some ibuprofen, another flask of twice concentrated Infinit Run and a pop tart.  The pop tart was just in case I had already shut it down.  I was still moving forward at about a 7:15 so I just tossed it.  I took one ibuprofen immediately.  I was alternating each aid station with taking two salt tabs, water, coke, and water on the way out, then the next one would be Infinit Run, water, Infinit Run, water, then ice on the head and in my jersey.  It seemed to be working well.  I took 4 salt tabs on each of the 10km stretches for a total of 16 salt tabs.  Unfortunately, not long after the halfway point, I was getting dangerously close to my longest run of the year.  Other than the half at Triple T, I had done one 15 mile run about 4 weeks before the race.  Like my body had expected it, right at the 15 mile mark, I got my first muscle cramps.  Hamstring on my right leg locked up and I had to limp off the course.  About 15-20 seconds of stretching had me moving once again at about 7:20’s, but since I had to do this every 300-400m for the next 4 miles, I wasn’t really feeling like I was gaining ground on my competitors.  In fact, now that I was on my second lap, I was once again lapping runners on their first loop.  I seemed to have the same 55 year old woman keeping up with me for at least 3 of those miles.  I would blow by her, put some distance on, then cramp, limp off course to stretch, she would pass me, I would get it sorted out, then repeat.  The cycle was very annoying, but atleast I knew that woman wasn’t really getting away from me.  As Russ reminded me before I left for the race, "Nothing kills your time quicker than walking."  

The smile at Blaire

I used the next few aid stations to hit the nutrition hard, and decided to go through the rest of my Infinit by mile 18.  That seemed to do the trick and by mile 19.5 (the final turn around), cramps were gone and I was rolling once again.  From the final turn to the finish, I decided to walk only about 5 or 10 seconds per aid station to make sure I was staying hydrated.  At this point any nutrition would be a futile effort as I’m sure I was as pale as a ghost and it was all I could do to move forward.  I was still moving forward at sub 8 minute miles though because I knew I needed at least one more guy to get on the podium.  I was really hoping that Blaire was right and I did in fact somehow look better than the guys ahead of me.  I was passed at about mile 21 by a guy in my age group like I was standing still.  Looking at results later told me that that guy ran a very solid 3:01 marathon.  Impressive.  The final 4 or 5 miles were tough, but I was always moving well.  Each step, my quads felt like they wanted to explode out of my legs.  The lack of run fitness was really showing at this point.  With about 1.5 miles to go, I finally caught a guy in my age group before separating from the people on the first loop and running essentially alone through the middle of town and into the finish chute. 

The finish of this race was amazing.  Very narrow chute with sky high grandstands packed with people.  I could hear Blaire screaming my name and was able to crack her a smile.  As soon as I crossed the line  I was completely toast.  Had a hard time standing for a few minutes.  It really is amazing what your mind can trick your body into doing.  Sheer will and nothing else.

Overall, Ironman Couer D’Alene was a very well done race on a beautiful course.  Roads were smooth and scenery was gorgeous.  The run was relatively flat and fast, and the two loops made it fly by.  I would definitely do this race again, and assume that conditions could only get better!

Morning: 2 packs of Oatmeal, ½ a cup of protein fruit smoothie, coffee, 1 bottle of Gatorade, 1 chocolate muffin
T1: 1 8oz flask of Infinit Run formula
Bike: 3 bottles of Infinit Bike (on bike when I started), 4 Honey Stinger gels, 1 double concentrate bottle of mixed Infinit Bike/Infinit Run, 1 banana, and 1 Ironman Perform
Run: Started run with a flask of double concentrated Infinit Run, 16 salt tabs, a second double concentrate 8oz flask of Infinit run in special needs, 1 ibuprofen, 2 or 3 cups of perform, 5 or 6 cups of coke, 2 Gu’s, 25,000 cups of water and ice
More Sunscreen was necessary

Thanks for Reading!

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