Hard to summarize a 10+ hour event (unfortunately took that long) in a post. But, I’ll give it a go:
Lead up to Ironman Lake Placid was pretty ideal. Thanks to my wonderful wife I was able to have some very solid training, and then a really good taper going into the race. No major illnesses, injuries, problems, etc. Everything was coming together very nicely. I was looking forward to getting the race going, and tried to have a very positive outlook on what was going to come. All in all, everything according to plan.
Our accomodations are fantastic. Literally a five minute walk to the oval (staging area) and the swim start. On race morning, got up at my usual time of 4:00am, drank coffee, had yogurt, etc. All the normal routine. Plenty of time to get down to transition, get my nutrition and fluids together, get back to the condo for some relaxation, and off to the swim.
Oddly enough, I was REALLY looking forward to the swim. I’ve been busting my hump trying to improve my swim, and I have been seeing some very positive results. Last year I just wanted to get through it. This year I was actually looking forward to it. Lined up center-right, cannon goes, and mayhem ensues. Unless you’ve been in whitewater rapids with Rampage Jackson, kind of hard to describe what goes on. Needless to say, pure carnage. Arms and legs everywhere. Three solid strokes and then WHAM, you get pummeled (or pummel someone else). Tough to get into a rhythm, but crucial to stay relaxed and calm. Long days means lots of energy needed. Can’t waste it at the start of a swim. So, I keep things together, looked for holes in the midst of all the bodies, and got to work. What a difference a year makes, just cruising through the water with no worries. First loop done in 31:45.
Second loop much smoother than the first. Able to stay right on the bouys all the way around. I was hoping to come in faster than the first loop (or close), but was not pushing it. Just cruising nice and long strokes. Came out of the water in 1:05, which was a 4 minute improvement over last year. More importantly, I wasn’t even working that hard. Could have easily gone faster, but the plan was to be around that mark. Would have like one more loop just for kicks, but had to start the bike.
The strategy for the bike was to ride an easy first loop, and stay consistent. Rode very steady up the first hills out of town, then blasted down the long descent into Keene. What a blast it is to have the whole lane and rip over 50 mph. Just had to steer around other riders who were using their breaks. Hit Keene and started the long straight ride up Route 9N. All in all, feeling very good. People were passing me, so that was a good sign. I was cruising around 22mph, hitting my hydration and nutrition marks, and enjoying the time. Had to make a bathroom stop at 20 miles into the bike, which was a good sign as well in terms of being hydrated. Could have gone on the bike, but didn’t want to risk fouling my nutrition. Plus, never tried that trick on a bike before, and never do on race day what you haven’t done in practice. Coming back toward LP, a lot of climbing to be done. Kept things steady and smooth. A headwind was picking up on the way back, so I didn’t want to push it too hard. Sticking to the plan, I did the first loop in around 2:50. I was hoping for 2:45, but wasn’t going to worry too much at this point. Mistake would be to try to make up time on the second loop.
Hitting the downhill on the second loop, stayed tucked and never touched the breaks. Knees were buried into the top tube to control the bike as it bounced on the road. Wind was starting to pick up as well, making it a bit more challenging. Couldn’t see how fast I was going because the bike was shaking pretty bad. Hitting a right-hand curve, had to lean a bit and fight the wind. A bit of a sketchy moment, but everything held together. After the downhill was over, checked my computer and it registerd a max speed of 55 mph. Never gone that fast on a bike before. Tremendous fun. Everyone should try it.
Continuing toward Upper Jay and Jay, the tail wind was making things easy. Of course, that would soon be a head wind. Until then, had to do the out and back on Haselton Road. Coming back on that road, a peloton of about 40 people go by. The penalty tent couldn’t have fit everyone. I turned to the guy riding next to me, and ask if people are taking 20 second pulls off the front. For those who don’t know, Ironman races are not draft legal, meaning you have to maintain at least 7 meters between you and the person in front of you. You also have to pass a person within 25 seconds and get to the right hand side of the road. This was amazing because it violated almost every rule. Come to find out that no race officials are on that road because it is too narrow for motorcycles and cyclists. So it is a draft fest for 14 miles.
Coming back past Whiteface, the wind was really picking up, making it a lot more difficult going uphill (with about 3 miles of continuous uphill). Strategy was to keep heart rate in zone 3, cadence high, and get to the run. Did the second loop in 2:53, which put me at a 5:43. Not thrilled with the overall time, but at least I was consistent as the conditions got harder. We were supposed to get rain, but instead we got a lot of sun and wind. Not a hot day, but when you’ve been staring at rain clouds for two months. 78F feels a lot warmer.
Strategy for the run was to hit around 7:30s and keep heart rate in zone 3. Started out extremely well. After a quick pit stop in the transition area (another good sign of hydration), I was on my way out of town downhill. I’ve been doing a ton of downhill running over the previous 6 months to prepare for the race, and now I was eager to see how my legs would feel. All in all, felt fantastic. I was staying relaxed, not working terribly hard, and hitting around 7:30s per mile. Perfect pace and according to plan. I knew my bike time put me out of where I wanted to be, but I thought I could still put together a good time. So I rolled on, hitting the water stations and eating gel every 5 miles. First loop done in 1:38.
Now for the second loop. This is when the hurt starts. Pace starts to slow as legs lose their pop. Going downhill of town, no pain in the quads at least. Major accomplishment as this has been my biggest problem in downhill races (like the Boston Marathon). Eccentric loading has been my motto for a while, and it was paying off. However, the things were starting to slow. Harder to keep things moving at the pace I wanted, getting hotter, wanting to be done. On River Road, started to walk through water stations to get as much fluid as possible. Cola and ice, water, sponges. Then off and running to the next station. Kept this pattern throughout the rest of the run. My goal time of close to 10 hours was already gone, and motivation was slipping significantly. But, it was a nice day, and pretty inspiring to be part of an event like this. People were making friends on the course as a lot of people were reduced to walking. But continuing on. At least I was able to pull things together between water stops, which was another improvement over last year.
Coming back into town is a huge uphill. Kept grinding up that, knowing it was my last trip. Going down Mirror Lake Road, there are tons of spectators, including all the MRC people (and my family). Great to see them there. Even though the turn around for the run is only about a mile off of Main Street, it seems like forever. Hitting the turn around, I was able to kick things into gear and get back to a decent pace. Still having some pride, I did not want to be passed in the oval. I started cranking again, and was able to finish in style at 10:39 (a 2:00 second half for a total marathon of 3:38).
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A lot of improvement over last year: faster swim, faster run, better training. Even though my time was a minute slower than last year, my finishing place was higher in my age group (27th) and overall (145th). At the same time, I was not near my goal of close to 10 hours. Bike was slower, and while that was strategic, it was too slow to make up. Gives me a lot to build on for the next time I try this insane venture.
Part of what makes this difficult is the death of a dream. That’s overly dramatic for sure, but you hope for a certain result, envisioning it when you train, when you are too tired to get off the couch, waking up early every day, sitting on a trainer for 2+ hours, excluding things from your diet, neglecting your relationships. All of this is for a dream or vision of where you want to end up. And then that dream is gone and unfulfilled. What then? What happens after that? A lot of what-ifs can ensue. What if I went harder on the bike? What if I went slower on the run? What if I trained a little differently? What if I’m just not that fast and this is it?
As my wife noted, Ironman is a really strong metaphor for life. Over the last three years, we’ve dealt with a lot of “what ifs”. If I focused too much on those what ifs, I would likely end up being an alcoholic. You can choose to focus on what is not there, what did not go according to plan, what dreams may be lost. Another way to go is to look at what you do have, what you did accomplish, what you were able to fulfill. The danger in that is falling into complacency. You can always say “Well, at least it is not as bad as (fill in the blank).” True, but that doesn’t mean we should settle for a low bar.
I do know in trying to reach my goal, I have become a swimmer. I can do flip turns, start off the blocks, swim the IM (kind of), and feel at home in the water. I do know that I can train a lot and manage it without getting injured. I do know that I am fortuante enough to be able to pursue these things while most others cannot. So, while I did not get where I wanted to be, I am definitely not where I was. That is important.
There were a million inspiration stories out on that course. One of the things I like to do, and what everyone should do, is watch the finishers trying to get done in 17 hours and officially be called an “Ironman”. Did they put in less time, effort, sacrifice, than pros? Hard to measure and compare. But one of the great traditions in Ironman is at the World Championships in Kona, where the winners come to the finish line as the last people try to cross the line in the official time. Where else are you going to find that? Where else are you going to find pros walk the marathon course after their day is done out of respect to the age groupers? Not at any marathon or other race. So ultimately, the greatest thing about race day was just being there.