Lake Placid Ironman 22 July 2012
The more I race, the more I realize how hard it is to have a “clean” race, especially when it comes to ironman. In my first ironman in Cozumel last year, I had a catastrophic flat tire that took me 3 hours to fix (I finished though!). One race I received a penalty for “abandoning equipment” (my cycling shoe fell off my pedal in T2 without me noticing). Luckily, I haven’t crashed during a race but I’ve seen a ton of them. Placid this year started great but I had a few small, distracting issues pop up.
The water temperature was about 74 degrees so I decided to wear a sleeveless wetsuit. I did a practice swim a few days before the race in a full body wetsuit and it was way too hot. Thank god my buddy lent me his sleeveless suit.
I positioned myself near the front on the right side of the start line (near the shore for those who know Mirror Lake). I was planning on 1 hr. 5 min. swim and wanted to avoid the craziness in the middle. Plus, I figured it would be easier to swim slightly diagonal left than start on the left near the buoys and fight all the people. I wanted to avoid being pushed to the left of the buoys. All the videos I watched of the Placid swim start showed the folks in the middle barely moving due to the sheer number of people in such a small space. I definitely wanted to avoid big, slow moving groups of swimmers.
I kicked hard for about 200 meters and got away from some of the larger groups behind me and then eased off and tried to find a rhythm. Traffic wasn’t too bad and I only got kicked in the head a few times (I expected worse). My first loop was at 30 min. flat so I knew I was having a good swim (you have to get out of the water after the first loop, run across the beach, and jump back into the water for the second loop). I felt strong on the second loop and managed to swim right next to the cable underwater. I think I only had to site a handful of times because I was able to follow the cable. This strategy worked because I came out of the water at 62 min and felt great!
My T1 went well though I should have put sunblock on. Apparently, most of it came off in the water because at the end of the day I was pretty burned. One tip – leave your cycling shoes in your bike gear bag because volunteers bring your bike. They are in a hurry and I could envision a shoe popping off without a volunteer noticing. That would suck…
I was nervous about the bike because the weather was supposed to be hotter than expected. I think it ended up being like 82 degrees with close to 60% humidity on the day of the race. It certainly felt hot especially on the big hills. I started strong on the bike and then my first bump in the road happened. I was only about 5 miles into the race on a slight downhill and couldn’t believe it when a motorcycle came up beside me – the guy was holding up a red card and told me I was drafting! It’s true I was about 2 bike lengths behind the guy in front of me (you are supposed to be 4), but I was surrounded by a bunch of bikes and it was only for what felt like 5 seconds while I was deciding whether to pass him or back off. It was a downhill so I was being conservative and not in a hurry to pass. I tried to argue with the referee but he told me I had to stop at the next penalty tent at mile 23. When I arrived at the penalty tent they handed me a stopwatch and I had to wait 4 minutes while I heard dozens of cyclists pass. The sound of everyone passing me was so frustrating. What infuriated me was that I saw the same referee give a guy a warning later in the race for being too close to the bike in front. It seemed unfair but I was determined not to let it negatively affect my race.
I expected a 6 hour or less bike split and planned to stay in heart zone 2. This didn’t happen. Every time I looked at my Garmin I was above my target heart rate. I kept trying to back off but it seemed like I was constantly on a hill that was pushing my heart rate up. Plus, almost everyone I talked to before the race recommended taking it easy on the first bike loop. I didn’t know what to do and finally decided to just go with it. Because of the heat, I started taking a bottle of Gatorade at every aid station and drinking it before the next aid station. I was forcing myself to drink a ton because I was seriously concerned about dehydration.
My second mishap happened on the big climb back to the village of Lake Placid at about the 50 mile mark. I was in my big ring and abruptly shifted to my small ring with too much tension on my pedals: the result – a dropped chain. I almost took out a few people behind me as I came to a screeching halt. It only took me about a minute or so to get my chain back on but it reaffirmed my aversion to SRAM. I haven’t been happy with my SRAM Red since I started riding it on my new tri bike. I’ve had a hard time dialing in SRAM and it continues to give me problems. My first loop was about 2 hours and 51 minutes so I wasn’t too unhappy considering my two mishaps.
A funny thing happened at mile 60 or so – my heart rate dropped and my speed increased. I felt like I was getting stronger. It was like I was finally getting comfortable on the bike. I started passing people especially on the hills when people were struggling. I don’t think anyone passed me on the second loop and I finished strong at 5:48.
My T2 was thankfully uneventful. After handing my bike to the volunteers I had to run on hot cement to the area that held our run bags. Running on cement in bare feet (I don’t wear socks when racing) was not fun. If I had done a better reconnaissance I would have worn socks because it made my feet hurt during the run.
Getting off the bike my legs actually felt ok and I had a strange feeling that I could have gone harder on the bike. I did a few butt kicks at the start of the run and was happy with the way my legs felt. That didn’t last long….
Due to a pretty serious cycling accident I had at the end of May, I was unable to run for about 4 weeks (most of June). Those were peak training weeks for me so I expected my run to suffer…and suffer it did. My pace the first 6 miles was comfortable and below my target pace. At the end of 6 miles though, I knew it was going to be a tough run. I gutted it out until mile 13 and then started hurting. After mile 13 I had serious dead leg: my pace slowed and my heart rate went down. It is an awful feeling to have…it’s like you’re helpless to reverse the condition and your pace continues to slow.
I don’t eat much solid food during IM to help prevent stomach issues. This strategy has worked well for me. At the start of the run my stomach was in good shape but by mile 13 it started giving me problems. I couldn’t eat or drink anything but water. It is the first time in a race I’ve felt nauseous. The only way to get the nausea to pass was to walk. I hated it but felt powerless. I took salt tablets and drank water at every aid station hoping not to become dehydrated. Fellow competitors seemed to be dropping like flies from cramps, stomach issues, and the heat in general. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people vomit during a race.
I finished my marathon in a disappointing 4:44. Because of my cycling accident in May, I realistically expected to be around the 12 hour mark so I wasn’t too upset with my time of 11:43. After crossing the finish line I went into the medical tent to ensure I wasn’t dehydrated. I was surprised to learn I only lost 3 pounds during the race. The doctor explained that I depleted my electrolytes but that I probably had a stomach full of water that hadn’t been absorbed yet. I didn’t need an IV so they gave me some chicken soup and sent me on my way.
I’m not sure about how to improve my ability to continue eating and drinking during the marathon. Nausea does not lead to fast times so this is something I’ll need to work on. In general I plan to really focus on my run in the off season. I have plenty of time because my next IM is Lake Tahoe in September 2013!