First, thank you again to AJ for all the support along the way. It’s been quite a journey – an incredible one for sure. I can’t believe it’s over and that I was able to finally hear those words, “You are an ironman!”
Okay – time for some debriefing. I’m going to do my best to tackle this all in sections.
Pre-race: I always see all these athletes training the days before the race. I did my best to stick to my training taper and not let the massive and intimidating athletes throw me off. I knew that Coach AJ’s training plan would work and I kept to it. Although a lot of people like to bike part of the course (or all of it apparently) and run part of it, the only part of the course I really did before race day was the swim. I’m unsure if all IM events do this, but the swim course was set up starting on Thursday. It was a beautiful lake and completely closed off to motor boats, so I did one lap of the swim (AKA 1.2 miles) to get a feel for it. This helped my nerves a bit and also (sort of) helped with placement for the swim. In addition to following the taper, I spent a lot of time with family, catching up, taking it easy, and attending some of the ironman events. I had no idea that race weekend was so involved. Between checking in, the athlete briefing, opening ceremony, and free breakfasts (plus all the activities with the charity I partnered with – Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America), there was a ton going on. On Saturday, I racked my bike and dropped off my bike and run gear bags. Later that night, I went back to my room early, ordered room service for dinner, and read a book. I tried to get to sleep early, but predictably woke up every hour for the night.
On race day, I woke up at 4am and made the trek down to transition. Before I got there, I dropped off my bike special needs bag (included spare tube, spare CO2, refills on food/fuel, extra sunscreen, spare socks, bandaids, body glide ). In transition, I loaded up my bike with water bottles and fuel (I used PB stuffed pretzels). I left transition and dropped of my run special needs bag (vaseline, body glide, spare socks, spare shoes, light jacket). I then headed to the starting line. Breakfast included a bagel with cream cheese, a banana, and some granola.
Swim: I’m not sure if this is the case at every IM event, but Lake Placid was self-seeded. I knew one lap of the swim took me 45 minutes, so I anticipated a 90 minute swim. That said, I did my training swim two days before without a wetsuit and I also knew that I was much faster when in a wetsuit. My biggest opportunity for improvement with the swim is that I should have seeded myself in a faster group. In earlier 70.3 events, my swim (with a wetsuit) was closer to 35-38 minutes. This meant I had to keep swimming around people for the swim and slowed me down a lot. That said, it went well and our training plan certainly prepared me well.
T1: I ran up to transition, grabbed my bike gear bag, and headed to the changing room. I dried off my feet, reapplied body glide to my feet, and donned my helmet. The guy beside me forgot to pack his helmet in his bag – I’m not sure what became of him, but it didn’t look good when I left. The changing room was most chaotic at this point – filled with people, but the volunteers were awesome. They would help you out and then grab your bag when you were done (they would return it for you). Also, and not sure if this is TMI, but there was a trough-style urinal in the middle of the changing tent if needed. It got plenty of use and I overheard one guy say, “I don’t even want to know what they have going on in the women’s tent.”
Bike: I knew the bike would be tough up at LP, but I had no idea it was going to be so severe. The first loop was actually worse than the second loop (and they’re identical loops!). Why? Well, it started to rain and became quite cold. There was basically a long uphill portion with a head wind and rain in your face. Although I didn’t see hail, other people did experience it. I became so cold on this portion of the bike ride that I actually was shivering and started to doubt whether or not I would be able to continue. I did my best to remain focused and think of being warm. Not sure how I persisted through it all, but I did. Even the downhills were tough – the wind made them feel like uphills! Lesson: pack a light jacket in your bike gear bag in case weather turns cold before the bike. You can take it or leave it in transition. If you take it, you can always return it in your special needs bag. The other major takeaway from the bike was my cadence: I maintained a cadence of 90-95 as best as possible and focused on this more than anything. In past races, I was not nearly a focused on my cadence. Several people on the side line would shout out to me about it and said, “that’s right – keep up the cadence, you’ll be glad you did when you come back for you second loop and the run.” Seriously though, it made such a huge difference. As for my battle with the cold/rain/hills, I maintained my focus on breaking up the race into sections – get through this loop, one thing at a time. When I came to the last 5 miles of loop 1 on the bike, the crowds started to pick up and the encouragement was so incredible that it entirely reset me and motivated me for loop 2. On loop 2, there was very little rain and I was no longer shivering – thank god. When I got to my special needs bag prior to loop 2, I exchanged my fuel and grabbed my spare socks. I left everything else. I actually never changed my socks despite completely soaked shoes/socks because the current pair I was wearing were wool and I figured they would dry better then the fresh pair now in my rear pocket. They didn’t dry completely, but it all worked out. Lesson: if you’re going to pack extra socks, make sure the spare are good for the rain. As for nutrition, I strived to eat 2 PB filled pretzels every 10 minutes and then a 1/4 banana at two thirds of the aid stations. I focused on one bottle of skratch/gatorade/water per hour and was pretty close to this amount. I ended up stopping at a urinal twice on the first loop and once on the 2nd loop (excellent use of time as it allowed me to warm up and stretch my neck).
T2: Entering T2, a volunteer actually took my bike and allowed me to run straight to my run gear bag and then the changing room. I dried off my macerated feet and reapplied body glide to them. I put on my bib, hat, and visor and heading out for the 26.2.
Run: Thanks to my high cadence (at least that’s what I’m contributing it too), my legs felt pretty good for the run. I started with the game plane of run 8 min/walk 2 min like I trained. That said, the rain for the bike meant good overcast without rain for the run. It was perfect running weather! I ended up breaking a bit of a rule and running with walking breaks at the aid stations. I knew I shouldn’t do this, but the crowds were so great I couldn’t help myself. I was able to keep this for the first 16 miles or so. In addition to walking at aid stations, there were two major hills and I decided to walk up those. At first, I figured I would just run up them but I convinced myself that I would later regret it. Somewhere around mile 16, I started to get stomach cramps. It never resulted in GI distress, it just persisted. The left side of my neck was also severely cramping, so I practiced some stretches while walking. Come this point, I resumed my training of run 8 miles/walk 2 as best as possible. At some points, it was more of a run 4, walk 1 or some other variation. My nutrition consisted of one Gu pack every 45-60 minutes, gatorade and water at every aid station, one banana, multiple oranges, and at one point a handful of pretzels thinking I needed the sodium. What made the biggest difference was the broth. My cramps got infinitely better once the broth came out and I had a cup, so maybe it was the electrolytes being thrown off? My running improved and my body felt so so so much better. As for my special needs bag – didn’t even need it as my feet were dry!
Finish: I won’t say too much about this, as we all know that it’s a special part of the day. What I will say is that I took AJ up on her advice and returned from 1130-midnight to watch the final athletes. The crowd was INSANE, people were cheering like I never seen before. It was a huge party and the athletes were so inspiring. The crowd and the volunteers at Lake Placid were the best I have ever seen at a race before. I am eternally grateful to them.
- Ironman provides “first timer” bracelets. If it’s your first IM event, get one – it provides plenty of additional cheering and encouragement all weekend long. There was a table in the athlete village handing them out.
- Place a transition towel in each gear bag. Helps to dry off if necessary each time.
- Special needs bags: at least at IM Lake Placid, friends and family can pick up your bags while you’re running if they just go to these areas. The bags basically become unattended when the area is not longer being used by the athletes.
- My family was able to pick up my bike and gear bags after 6pm by using the orange slip provided in the check in packet. I was so happy that I only had to carry myself back after the race.
- Weather: was both my foe and friend. Made for a terrible bike ride, but the absence of rain but persistent overcast come the run was a true gift.
I’m sure there’s much more to contribute, but this post is pretty long at this point. Please let me know if you guys have questions. Thank you again, AJ, for all the insight and support. What an incredible day!