Ironman CdA, Part I: THE SWIM

Clif Notes:  the swim was the first Ironman moment. Standing there on the beach, I couldn’t believe I was living the Ironman videos I’d been obsessively watching for six months. The actual swim was surprisingly uneventful.

Ironman Race Day: The Swim

I woke up at 3AM with a horrible case of heartburn. I lay in bed, trying to rest until I really needed to get up. This had happened one other night while at the hotel (I never, ever have heartburn) and had gotten better when I ate a banana, so I simply started my pre-race meal (pb&j, banana, coffee) a bit early. It was very easy getting my stuff finalized, as most of the work had been done the night before. James took me and the crabster down to the park, returning to the hotel so he and the kids could sync up with the crabby family. The forces of the universe were in alignment, as Coach Amy and Malinda plus Robin walked up right as we finished getting body marked.
We dropped off our special needs bag—I got a little thrill because I saw Kip, a local guy who (along with his sister Kai) had been featured in the newspaper and they were doing another Ironman together. Of course, I got the names mixed up and called him Kai but he was gracious (I saw him on the run, too). I’m a big fan of the symbolic gesture; I brought my Ironman cookie with me to CdA so we could eat it race morning. I gave everybody a little piece so we’d have a bit of Ironman in us from the start. Then, we moved over to the beach to get ready for the swim. The music was awesome and Cathy and I quickly found the spot we’d like (we opted to go buoy line the whole way). We were joined by friends. I had some brief tears as I looked around and thought, “This thing is happening!” but they were happy tears. I was ready to go when the cannon went off.

Loop 1

I was amazed that I was immediately able to get my head down and really swim. I’d expected to be whacked and buffeted and spend a good chunk of time with my head out of the water. In the days leading up to the race, I’d focused on us being like a school of fish and all of that crowding being “natural.” But I didn’t need that—I had tons of room. It was a bit frustrating when people would just stop and hang in the water, so I did my share of swimming over folks. I found myself always in between groups, too fast for the people behind me and too slow to catch the people in front. So for the first loop, I had no real opportunity to draft. I just kept on going on.
The thing that impressed me the most was the sound of all the arms hitting the water. I just can’t describe it, but I kept thinking it was surreal.
Then, when we got to the turn buouy, we turned straight into the light and, what with the splashing and the light, it was impossible to see where to sight. The kayakers were yelling, “Go right, go right!” but how much right? After a few minutes, the sun dipped behind a cloud a bit and I found the orange buoy on the other side. The leg back into the beach was entirely without incident. When I popped out of the water, I glanced at my watch and saw 44:55 for the loop, which was a bit slow but I figured I would find myself somebody to draft off of and speed up without having to sight all the time.

Loop 2

I found a suitable candidate for drafting; she was just a bit slower than me but she was doing an excellent job of swimming right along the buoy line. I tucked in and before I knew it, we were making the turn.
Just on the other side of the turn, I thought I should pick it up a bit. I was feeling good and the swim had been easy. Another body came by and I decided to latch on to him. I turned it up a notch and POW, my left calf completely cramped up. I’d had a twinge of a cramp before but had just dangled my foot a bit to loosen things out, but I guess I really pointed my toes and aggravated things, because I actually popped up, grabbing my calf, going “ow ow ow.”
It was so bad I stopped, rolled over, grabbed my toes and pulled my leg straight until it stopped. Crap! People had passed me and I’d lost my drafting partner. Ah, well…the irony was I saw my draftee just up ahead…if only I stayed with her.
I took it on in to the beach; standing was a bit awkward, as both my calves felt very tight and I was wobbly. I bobbled a bit in the water as I tried to stand up. Watch time said 47:28 for the second loop, and 1:32.24 overall.
I confess at the time, I was briefly disappointed but I smacked myself upside the head and pointed out to myself that a couple of minutes was nothing and I’d had an easy swim.
About this time, I saw my whole family crammed in behind the fence, just as we exited the swim area!! I was so pumped as I really hadn’t expected to see them at all. I was very very happy.
Female swimmer in wetsuit after swim at Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008
I was so happy to see my family as I came out of that swim at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Photo credit: James Nyfeler


The wet suit strippers descended upon me—two of them, since I have a two-piece wetsuit—and the next thing I knew, I was trudging through the grass towards T1 with a wad of wet, grassy neoprene in my arms. And who did I see but Cathy, right in front of me! Joy! Rapture! Could it get any better?
Off into the tent, which was jam packed and somewhat stinky if I may say so; a volunteer in the back was frantically waving her arms to signal she was free so I yelled out, “Hey, honey, I’m coming for you!” and made my way back to the back. Her name was Erin and she was awesome.
I asked for my towel first and, while I dried, I watched her sort out my bike things just as I would’ve done. Great! I felt like I was moving efficiently and we even got sunscreen on before I put on my arm warmers. There was a little bit of a problem with my race belt and bib; the bib wanted to come off, just like at PlayTri, so I pulled out the safety pins from my chip strap (hey, there was NO WAY I was going to lose my chip during the swim!) and Erin pinned it to the belt.
Then, I was out the door and off to find my bike. I was gratified to see that there were still quite a few bikes out there. I grabbed Clementine and we rolled out past the mount line.
T1 time=11:18, for a total time of 1:43:42.
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “Ironman CdA, Part I: THE SWIM

  1. Wouldn\’t have been the same…

    …none of it would have been so freaking awesome without you every single step of the way Leah! From the tiresome workouts to the standing on the beach holding hands (we are such dorks!) to the very end when we saw one another in the food(less) area after finishing. I love you friend!

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