From around the Northwest, the nation and the world, they’ve made their way to Coeur d’Alene this week for the 11th Ironman to start and finish at the city’s celebrated shoreline.
More than 2,600 athletes will compete in Sunday’s triathlon, a 140-mile course that begins with a swim in Lake Coeur d’Alene, follows with a demanding bike ride on the west side of the lake and ends with a marathon on the north shore. They have a little more than 17 hours to finish.
Participants began checking in and picking up their packets and race swag Thursday and will continue streaming in today at the Ironman village in City Park.
Four competitors – two locals, one from Alaska and one from Japan – shared their thoughts and emotions on the race as they prepared for the big day.
Frank Pisano, 33, Deer Park
Pisano is in his third Ironman here. His father, Vincent, came from Delaware to cheer him on, along with other relatives and friends.
“At the end of the day knowing the distance you’ve covered” is part of the attraction of finishing an Ironman, Pisano said. But on the course, emotions are a mixed bag.
“There are times you love it to death – the scenery, the crowd gets you going and you just absolutely love it,” he said. “And then there are times where you wish you could break your bike or something so you could just go home.”
He’s been training for this year’s event since the start of January, and Pisano took a swim in the choppy lake Thursday morning as a steady drizzle fell.
“My feet were a little chilly, but once you get in and get moving, it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “And there’s so many people in that lake come Ironman, your mind’s on eight other things: I don’t want to get kicked, I don’t want to get punched, I want to survive.”
The crowds that turn out to support racers are one of the best features of Coeur d’Alene Ironman, he said. “We don’t know anybody, but they’re out there on the course all hours of the day cheering you on, at all locations. It’s really nice.”
Rachael Campbell, 28, Anchorage, Alaska
This is Campbell’s first full Ironman, and she wore a big smile at check-in but confessed she was as nervous as excited about race day.
An engineer, she signed up a year ago and has been preparing since then. She said swimming should be her strongest leg, but she had not yet stepped into the lake.
“It sounded like a good fitness goal, something challenging, and I was ready for a fitness step change I guess,” Campbell said.
Her fiancé, immediate family and friends are in town to support her.
“I’m nervous because it’s an unknown,” she said. “I haven’t gone this far before and I really don’t know how it’s going to go. So it’s just going into the unknown.”
But, she added with a wide smile, “I think I’m ready.”
Akinori Shimomura, 61, Hiroshima, Japan
Shimomura has competed in six Ironman races around the world, including in France, Germany and Spain; this is his first stop in Coeur d’Alene. His wife is here to support him.
He wasn’t sure he’d make it, though, after breaking his right leg when he suffered heat stroke and crashed while bicycling last August. Shimomura had three bolts surgically implanted in his leg for the long recovery and had them removed in March. So he had little time to train.
“But I paid last summer for this event, so I came here,” he said, laughing. “I will do my best.”
He was worried he wouldn’t be able to finish if the cool, wet weather persisted Sunday – “The water is very choppy and cold” – and was encouraged by the forecast calling for a warm, clear day.
Kathy Achen, 48, Otis Orchards
Achen, a surgical technician at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, is an Ironman athlete as well as a volunteer – one of thousands who help stage the event.
She worked in the registration tent Thursday and Friday.
“I just like it because I get to talk to all the different people and help people deal with their nerves,” she said. “We get a lot of the first-timers in, so it’s like, ‘It’ll be fine.’ ”
The best advice, she said, is to focus only on the immediate task. “The big thing is to not think about the next leg. I just do what I’m doing and worry about the next thing when I get there.”
Achen competed in her first Ironman in 2005, when she was 40. Before that, she could not swim well and was terrified of the water. “I had to learn to swim,” she said.
This will be her fifth Ironman here. She had planned to resume racing in 2009 but was diagnosed with breast cancer two months before the race that year. She beat it and was back for the 2010 race and each one since. Her best time was 13 hours, 24 minutes.
“This really keeps me focused and doing something with my time,” Achen said.
And after it’s over, “I have the whole summer to have fun.”