Ironman USA Lake Placid Race Report
40 seconds of glory. That’s about the time it takes to run around the Olympic speed skating oval, hear your name called, and cross the finish line. As you read this entry that took over 3 years to write, keep in mind that it was all about those 40 seconds.
The alarm was set for 4, but I think I woke up for the final time around 3:55. I laid there for a few minutes, contemplating the day that lied ahead. I probably got around 6 hours of sleep, which was really good considering the adrenaline and race jitters that had built up.
I ate 6 peanut butter crackers and a Cliff Builder bar – my normal routine. Brush teeth, shave, shower, final bathroom trip. Everything was mostly in order. Just before 5 I left the hotel and began my walk up Main St.
Upon arriving at transition, I opened my run bag and put my socks in a zip-loc bag. The weatherman had forecasted a 0-10% chance of rain up until 1pm, with a 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. I did not want to run in wet socks. I also threw a hand towel in the bag.
I headed over to my bike and aired up the tires, lubed the drive train, put my water bottles and nutrition in place, and took the plastic off that I had put on overnight. She was in beautfiul shape and I was really looking forward to 8000+ feet of climbing over 112 miles on her later that day. I helped out a couple of other athletes with their tires and was out of transition by 5:30. Got my race numbers marked, and headed on to Mirror Lake Dr.
For those of you doing this race in the future, note that the the special needs bags drop off is about 1/4 mile down Mirror Lake Dr. from the swim exit. I thought they were closer, and was surprised at the walk. I had already taken my sandals off and was walking barefoot. This wasn’t a big deal for me, I had plenty of buffer and tough feet – but without that buffer it would have been a scramble.
One last trip to the port-a-john (ha ha, pre-race trip that is) and it was time to get in the water and warm up. 2300+ athletes warming up at the same time is kind of a pain. I was afraid of having a head on collision with so many people swimming in so many different directions. 10 minutes of floating and swimming and I was warm. It was looking like a Plan A day (Plan A = 14 hours).
The cannon (or bomb, or whatever) went off and the washing machine started. Arms were flying, feet were kicking, and over the next 3 minutes I fought to get to the starting line. I quickly found my place though and was stroking pretty good. For some reason, both times I went out, I got off course. Coming back in I had an easier time sighting. The same thing happened in practice. I don’t know if I have a problem with yellow buoys (they were orange coming back in) or if I’m just a nut job.
About 7:15am, I started feeling and hearing something really strange. I poked my head up and it was pouring down rain. In Atlanta, when it pours like that it stops a 10 or 20 minutes later, so I wasn’t that worried. So much for that 10% chance of scattered showers in the morning. When I exited for the first lap of the swim it was still raining. I didn’t think much of it. I had more important things on my mind (I had to pee).
Around 8:20 I was on the final stretch and poked my head up. It was raining even harder. How could this be? I swam on and came out of the water around the 1 hour 41 minute mark. Not only had a survived the swim, but I came out feeling great. Refreshed even. I worked my wetsuit partially off, hit a stripper, and jogged up to T1. In the rain.
I came out of the changing tent, hit the port-a-john, and gently jogged through what was becoming the mud pit formerly known as Transition. A volunteer had my bike waiting for me. I thanked him and ran it out to the mount line. It was still poruing as I hopped on and rode the downhills that took you out of transition.
The course takes you on an uphill course the first 7 miles or so. My legs felt great. My ride was smooth and shifting like a dream. Those were all the things within my control. It was still pouring and at times the rain felt like it was 1000 tiny little razors cutting my face.The downhills were very interesting – particularly the 6 mile, 1400+ foot drop. I rode the brakes more than I wanted to. I’ve trained in a drought for the last 18 months – I have not had the opportunity to ride in the rain, especially rain like this.
At mile 17 I stopped to pee and regroup. This is what the day was going to be like. It’s time to throw plan a out the window and go to Plan B – 15.5 hours. Shoot for 8 hours on the bike in these conditions and a 5.5 hour marathon. Nothing wrong with that. I can’t control the weather, so I pressed on.
OK. I have no idea what time I started the 2nd loop, but we’ll call it 12:40. It’s still raining. The volunteers are spectacular. I mean spectacular. They hold my bike while I pee. They take the trash I’m hauling around (wrappers and such). And they know how to do a water bottle hand-off. That’s so huge!
One thing that is fresh in my mind at this point was what a dude on Baby Bear told me – “hey big man, make sure you’re drinking enough out here. You’re sweating more than you think.” I wondered what I looked like. Why was he telling me this? Did he tell everyone this? And WHO ARE YOU CALLING BIG MAN!!! In total I stopped at a port a john 5 times on the bike. I was actually drinking too much. I had been heat trained.
On the first loop, I saw markings for mama bear and baby bear, but couldn’t figure out where papa bear was. I paid special attention to the road on this second loop, but still never saw papa bear. I saw little cherry and big cherry, and that was it. Some people complained about the hills, but to be honest I didn’t really notice them. There were a couple of climbs to spin up, but they were handled. I came back into T2 in just after just over 8 hours on the bike. My legs felt great and I was ready to run. My bike was cleaner than when I took it out on the course.
I am very glad that I did two things this morning. Putting my socks in a ziploc bag was huge. Putting a hand towel in this transition bag was huge. The changing tent was flooded. If you put your foot down, it got wet. I took my cycling shoes off and pulled my soggy socks off. As I was drying my right foot, my hamstring began to cramp. OUCH. Extending my leg out fixed it, but over the next several minutes of drying that foot, applyng a bandage to the arch to prevent a blister, putting on a sock, and then a shoe, I encountered a repeat of cramp – extend, cramp – extend. Finally my shoe was on and my left side did not pose the same problem. I put on my fuel belt, turned my race number around, and through my transition bag onto the pile.
I am shuffling down main street about to turn and head toward the ski jumps. My legs feel great. My breathing is great. Plan B looks to still be in order. Oh – and it’s still raining. The plan on the run was to shuffle all the way, but walk the water stops. This worked for a while. I was running with my friend Laura and we were making good time.
Eventually, the skin on the ball of my right foot folded over in two places and her stomach shut down. We were reduced to walking great distances around mile 10. Some more running took place, but it was rare. It grew dark. And cold. There were always a number of casualties around. On the run, the rain and cool temps were taking their toll. There was a small group of us that ebbed and flowed along River Rd. and back up to Main St. I was the comedian in the bunch trying to make my pain go away and help everyone else to the finish line. Most famously, we hit mile 20 and I said “134.4 – anyone ever seen a sticker that said that? NO. They say 140.6. We gotta press on.” And so we did.
I hit the oval and the music changed. YMCA by the Village People came on. I knew this was the way it was meant to finish. So much of my training took place at the Norcross YMCA. There were a number of Ironmen there, as well as competitive cyclists and swimmers, all of whom were great in giving advice (good and bad) over the prior 15 months that I trained there. I ran around the oval and ditched my glow stick and water belt so I’d have good photos.
Mike Reilly announced to the world that I am an Ironman. I TRIumphantly crossed the finish line, and my day ended. A day that was years in the making. All for those 40 seconds.