Race day morning at home:
When the alarm woke me up at 3:30AM, it felt like I hadn't slept at all the night before.. or for that matter the entire 12-months leading to the event. I gathered myself, showtime was ON and there was no looking back now. Two-years of focused effort was going to bear fruits today.. We had to leave the house at 4:45am and I had a lot to get through. I had a clearly documented race day plan that I had discussed at length with my coach Paul Kinney, so the chores were almost mechanical but time consuming.The race day bags were all ready so all I had to do was to take a bath, make my morning fresh juices, consume them and then relieve myself. I've been on a liquid vegetables/fruits juices breakfast diet for the past 2-months now and that worked really well on race day as well.
The nerve wrecking transition before the swim start:
The conditions were cloudy and overcast. The waters in the lake Coeur D' Alene looked calm but that's where we, the contestants had it wrong.. I went through transition, checked my bike, breaks, tires, air pressure, filled race bottles with my main electrolyte drink i.e. coconut water, special needs bags, etc. By now it was 6:30AM and we were asked to get ready for the swim. The water temperature was a whooping 53 degrees Fahrenheit (~10 degrees Celsius). I used a cold water from a faucet nearby to fill a part of my wet suit (this helps warmup and acclimatize the body to the colder waters). The start is a beach run format and no one is allowed to warm up in the lake which IMO (as we learned later) should be discouraged by Ironman management. Because of the mass start, it feels like one is swimming in a washing machine with very cold water.. the experience is more traumatic if one start ahead with the strong swimmers. So I decided to avoid that and start in the middle to the end of the pack. None the less, I still got slapped twice and one time I nearly lost my goggles to a nasty kick on my face. Here's a video of the start line up that gives most people goose bumps.
I started well (no ice cream headaches, heart palpitations etc) and I thought to myself.. I have the swim portion under control. That changed within 600 yards of entering the water. The race was a two loop course and based on previous practice swims, I hoped to finish under 1-hour and 30 minutes. The waters got very choppy, the currents picked up and my speed dropped. I saw several swimmers getting picked up. In all 85 swimmers out of 2300 left the race mid ways. Three water ambulances surrounded most of the sections I swam in looking for signed of distress from weaker swimmers. I tried not to make eye contact with them though I was very scared navigating the 2-3 feet tall waves .. I could not afford to be one of the failed swimmers.. I had a chip on my shoulder and a failed race from last year that I had to get over.. So I persisted... swimming overcoming the course one buoy at a time.. Coach Liz had once advised me on swimming with the head 6-inches under the currents in choppy waters like the ones I faced and I did exactly that.. In the end, 900 yards before the end I got a bad cramp in my right hip.. I was running out of time.. aiming now for a 2-hour finish facing the swim cutoff at 2 hours at 20 minutes. So I swam with the cramp in place.. almost not using my legs at all solely relying on my hands to get me to the shore.. In transition while changing I heard a man had suffered a heart attack in the water. The guy died a couple of days later which was very sad.
The Long 112 mile bike ride
The tenacious marathon
I cross mile 13 around 8:30, thirty minutes before the half way point time limit. It was clear that I had to up my speed if I was to complete the race so I started jogging at a faster 13-min mile pace. The running felt alright til mile 15 when I decided to experiment with some food.. a piece of banana and oranges with that felt good and I was able to hold them back.. The new calories helped me keep going but by then, I had lost so much speed that my only option was to walk off the rest of the course. My goal was now to walk as fast as I could and to cross the the mile 21 cut off before the 10:30 pm deadline. It had gone pitch dark around 10pm and going next to the lake, I had to be careful of not getting into an accident.
So with that I completed the run at 11:52 PM, eight minutes short of the final cutoff. I was elated to hear my my name being called out at the finish line by the main voice of the Ironman, Mr. Mike Reiley.. Hearing the words "HARPAL KOCHAR... YOU ARE AN IRONMAN" made me jump in the air like I had no aches or pains at all..
The crowd support was simply amazing throughout. I've attached a video below that tells you of the electricity in the air at the end of the race.