Since I subscribed to the triathlon blogring I figured I should probably pass along my thoughts on the Ironman triathlon I did in July 2004. Below are a couple pictures and a journal note I made about a month after completing the race. I hope it may be of use to anyone doing LP.
So, it’s done. I completed Ironman USA, Lake Placid, in 13:24:26. It’s been a month now and time to reflect and share some thoughts on the journey in hopes you may one day take a similar adventure, which, though long, pays off in ways I’ll never be able to adequately explain.
Our hotel, Northwoods Inn, was – literally – a 4 minute walk from the finish line and about a 6 minute walk to the start of the swim at the beach. We had a 6th floor room with a kitchenette and a perfect view out onto Main Str and the entire swim course. The only problem was that the hotel has only one elevator (an old, 1930s thing) so we had waits for getting bikes and gear up and down.
Arrived on Friday afternoon and immediately headed to the High School to register. You show your passport to get in and after signing a waiver climb on the scales to get weighed. Ironman North America (IMNA) is keen on this more for afterwards as it is their best way of seeing how you’re doing (or not doing) post-race by comparing your pre-and post-race weights. You then stand in line for a while until a volunteer becomes available to walk you through your registration kit package (race numbers, bike and helmet numbers, your id bracelet, swim cap, transition bags, dry bag). I thought this was a great step. From there you head to Sportstats to get your timing chip. They’ve got a good racket going here: you get your chip and a free, cheap plastic strap which you’re supposed to use to put it on your ankle on race morning. Course, everyone questions the cheap strap (will it hold the chip on? … “it should”. Will it cut into my leg? …. “it may”). Sportstats then mentions that for $10 you can get a funky IM velcro strap. Course, out comes the money. From the chip, you are herded to a table with the folks who take the race photos. Mine’s attached. There are a hundred different packages and they make it seem like you’ll not get pictures unless you sign up then and there and fork over a credit card and US$80. G and Lady A both did just this. I did not. About a week after the race, you can send an email to them and they’ll send you a link to your photos. I had five (two run, one swim, one bike and the finish line). These are sort of on-line protected so you can’t save them and print them, but if you’re a little bit savvy, you can out-maneuver their system <wink, wink>. Saved myself $80 thank you very much.
Friday night we had pasta at Nicola’s (everyone’s supposed to do this). Make a reservation for sure. Simon Lessing was there, just one table over with his family; Karen Smyers was there; Shingo Tani was there, etc, etc. After dinner we headed the beach and the “International Beer Exchange”. G found out about this event from his, almost obsessive, dedication to the Lake Placid Ironman chat page. While chat rooms are certainly not my cup of tea, G and hence Lady A and I did garner a lot of useful (and not-so-useful) information from this site. Pay a visit if you’re doing Lake Placid. ANYhow, the chatters host an international beer exchange at the beach the Friday before every IM race. It was good fun, newbies and oldies alike. I got to try a great Michigan beer and chatted with Snow, Aaron, and other folks had G got to know on line.
On Saturday am we headed to the beach early 7:00 am to do a swim. Gatorade has a tent set up there which will guard your stuff while you swim and then you get a free water bottle afterwards. The swim course is a two loop affair in Mirror Lake. Temperature was perfect, 72 degrees. If you manage to swim near the buoys on race day, there is a white rope/cable which you can follow underwater which would help you stay on course. We then did a short ride to make sure our bikes were okay.
You have to have your bike and transition bags into transition by 3pm on Saturday. We spent lunchtime prepping (and checking and rechecking these). There are large racks where your transition bags go and you rack your bike yourself. I put a bag over the seat and let air out of the tires. One thing that was never clear was whether or not you can get to and into these bags again come Sunday morning so I packed everything. You in fact can get into this stuff on Sunday to put in any last minute stuff you need (perishables). We also did not rack our ‘dry clothes’ bag on Saturday but did it on Sunday am. I would not do this again. Rack it Saturday as it’s one less thing to worry about on Sunday at 4am. There is a mandatory all athletes meeting at 2pm where the IMNA folks go over stuff. It’s held outside at the Oval and was a good refresher about the course, race rules, nutrition and etc. Make sure you wander the expo as well and pick up the free stuff everyone’s handing out. Of note on this aspect, I thought the expo at Ironman Wisconsin was bigger and more professional than what was on offer at Lake Placid. The Green Mountain blueberry coffee is worth a try!
Saturday night we headed up to the oh-so-expensive Lake Placid Lodge for a drink around the fireplace with our supporters. If you get to Placid pay a visit. While few of us can ever afford to stay or eat at a place like this (rooms start at US$400/night), its Adirondack charm make it worth a visit. Make sure you ask for a brochure on leaving. Their brochure is actually a full colour coffee table book!
We ate in on Saturday night; just lots of pasta and prepped our special needs bags and checked and re-checked these, laid out our wetsuits, set several alarms and hit the hay. Not that you’ll actually sleep much, 4am rolls around very early. The pre-race days were busy, which was good as it sort of kept your mind off THE RACE.
First off, I have to say it was not as hard as I thought it would be. This still fascinates me to no end. I suspect this is the result of several things coming together at the right time: a great training program via Coach Joel Filliol; good genes from my family; fantastic weather on race day (sunny, light winds, and about 24 Celsius); a great support crew of Ironmates cheering me during the day; and sheer luck.
As you climb out of bed, if you do nothing else, remember to put your race chip on first! I ate my regular breakfast before walking down to the transition area to check my bike, pump up my tires, and reset my trip computer. You then have to walk over to the other side of the beach to drop off your special needs bags at the bike/run half way point. We then headed back to the hotel to change into our wetsuits. It was on the walk back to the hotel that the year and a half preparation for this race caught up with us. There’s a staggering emotional calm 40 minutes out from the start an Ironman race. The sun’s just rising over the mountains, the lake is mist covered, calm and glassy, competitors roam quietly about their preparations, sleepy supporters and volunteers wander to their vantage points coffees in hand. All is surreal and zen like. Back at the room, we had a good cry, more I think for being there in that moment than anything thing to do with nerves or fears. JQ had told us the start would be more emotional than any other part of the race, including the finish, and she’s got that observation bloody bang-on.
We climbed into our wetsuits, grabbed our dry clothes bags and headed back to the start. Now, we had thought our dry clothes bags would be dumped down at the swim start. Not the case, they actually go back up in the transition area. So we walked up the hill to the transition where we thankfully found P, a friend who came down with us, who kindly took our dry clothes bags and racked them for us. We walked back down the chute and waited our turn to get over the timing mats (you have to do this before getting into the water to activate it). I suspect we were some of the last athletes into the water with about 5 minutes to go.
It’s amazing now looking back how little of the day I remember. It seemed to me I had no more entered the water, heard the National Anthem, noticed the helicopter overhead and looked for G then the cannon fired and 2000 athletes were off. Now, I’ve done mass starts before (at Peterborough) but this was a whole new ballgame. Very, very rough and you essentially have to keep moving or get run over. I went way right on the course to cut down on the traffic so I think I probably did another 500m or more as a result. Finished the swim in 1:06:17, which I was happy with. Wetsuit strippers are great. Really helps getting the suit off. There’s a long-ish uphill run to the transition from the beach. It’s about a block and a half.
I had to find my own Swim-Bike transition bag on the racks then headed to the tent. What a zoo! On tv it always seems so calm in the tent with one or two athletes. Not in my case, hundreds of guys all vying for a chair. Amid the bedlam, I found a chair. A volunteer dumped my bag for me, which irked me as I had everything arranged in it in a certain order. I drank a Boost in T1 before heading to the bike racks to find my bike. The bike start is a sharp left turn and down a steep hill. Watch out for that.
I have done the LP course a couple times beforehand, something I’d recommend for sure. It is very hilly (read: mountainous). Heading out to Keane, I stopped to put on my jacket as it was chilly with the wind through the Cascade Lakes area and down the 10km downhill into Keane. There are aid stations on the bike every 10miles but aside from one, I did not use any of them. I relied on water in my camelback, E-load in my water bottle and hammergel. I enjoy the LP bike course, if you speak to G you’ll get a much different opinion. The out and back turnaround in Black Brook is a fun place with a Christmas in July themed aid station and Santa Claus standing at the North pole which is the turnaround point. The toughest bit of the course is the 20 mile section from Wilmington back up to Lake Placid. This section is ALL uphill (mountain really, Whiteface Mountain). There’s several false flats and lots of small ring work. I did put a FSA carbon fiber crank on my bike shortly before going to Placid which was a godsend and saved my legs I’m convinced. It has a 38-52 on the front rings. At the top of climb you’re back in Lake Placid and you get your special needs bag. I wasn’t sure how this worked so I stopped, chatted with the volunteer, ate my red nibs, Pringles, and replenished my supply of hammergel and E-load. You get a real boost in town with the 1000s of spectators and supporters lining the roads. I finished the first loop in 3:12:31.
The start of the 2nd loop is fine as you’re doing that long downhill again into Keane. The section from Keane to Jay is flat along a river. At the halfway point of this section, a village called Upper Jay, I started to feel pretty fed up with the whole biking experience. But, what you going to do? So you solider on. The out-and-back to Black Brook on the second loop was the hardest bit for sure (heading out there I was tired, bummed out about cycling, sick and tired of bloody hammergel, and dreading the run). I remember though, when you have any negative thoughts, EAT. So I chowed down at the aid station in Black Brook on orange halves and my god, those where the best orange halves ever on earth. Heading back from Wilmington to Placid I was just hammering! Passing everyone I saw and spectators saying I was looking great. But you’re at the 160km mark at that point and you’ll do anything to get off the bloody bike! Finished the second loop in 3:31:33 for a total 180km bike time of 6:44:14.
Once you reach the bike finish line, a wonderful volunteer comes and takes away your bike, which is good cause at that point if I had a gun, I’d have shot it full of bloody holes. The tent was less busy on the bike-run transition and I really took my time, changing out of bike gear and into run gear. I ate another tin of Pringles, put on lotion and began the marathon.
I was quite surprised how well I felt on the run … initially. I think you’re just so glad to be off the bike that any action is better than cycling. Everyone is great, the spectators cheer you on big time, calling out your name, saying you’re looking great (if they only knew). The run is a two loop affair. There’s really only two hills (one very very steep short one on the way back into town, the other a long grinder out by the ski jump). I didn’t really have a plan for the run. Just take it as it came and stop at every aid station (each a mile apart) to walk a bit while I ate/drank. I managed to run the first half in 2:24:12. I felt very good actually, way better than what I expected. At the run special needs bag, I again stopped, chatted and ate. About a km further along was our support crew and I stopped to chat and get updates on G and Lady Ann. JQ finally said “aren’t you doing an Ironman?” which was her clue to get me running again.
And so back out you go. It’s sort of disheartening here as you’re right by the Olympic Oval where the finish line is and you hear the announcer and the crowds cheering folks in. There’s a small sign that says “2nd Loop” with an arrow and another that says “Finish” with an arrow and gad, did I ever want to be taking the “Finish” route at that point. The 2nd loop of the run was, as you can imagine, much more difficult. About the 13 mile mark I started to feel some tightness in my calves so I downed a salt tablet. By mile 16, where there is a very long, flat, and straight stretch of road that seems to go on forever, I was reduced to walking. I walked miles 16 and 17 and timed them. I was doing 20 minute miles walking. I did the calculation, 10 miles left at 20 minutes/mile equals 200 minutes which means another … 3 hours. NOT! It was this calculation that got me running again as there was no way I would spend another 3+hours on course. And so the shuffling continued. These last miles 20-25 are also quite an emotional experience. I found myself looking inward, if that makes sense. You sort of get into this place where you’re imagining the finish line. That image sustains you and gets you there. Coming back into town you run past the Oval, now lit up and rocking with people, to do a short 2km out and back. That 2km is like wow because you know you’ve done it. You’ve a perma-smile big time and just relish (wrong word, revel) in the fact you’re there: THE FINISH. And the finish is pretty damn cool – a wash of emotions ranging from exhaustion (but less so than I imagined), to pride, to utter humbleness, to sadness (that it’s over believe it or not) and a deep sense of being a different person than you were when you started. I finished the second loop in 2:46:32 for a marathon of 5:10:44. G actually negative split his marathon and beat me with a time of 5:10:09. Bravo G!
In the finish chute they have wonderful folks who place an Ironman medal over your head, cut your timing chip off, cover you in a thermal blanket, give you a t-shirt and guide you to the food/medical and massage areas. On finishing all I could think about was food. I headed immediately there only to find out all the pizza was gone, so I ate cookies, chicken broth, chips, bananas, drank a Coke. I then headed to the massage tent for a massage, which was nice, got my dry clothes bag and changed before heading back to the finish line to watch G cross. His first words after I got to him in the chute were: “There’s no f**king way I’m ever doing that again!” Pizza had arrived by then so I ate with G and guided him to the massage tent before heading back out on course to fetch our special needs bags. I was keen at that point to keep moving. We were lucky that we got my parents to go collect our bikes and run/bike transition bags at 6pm from transition. IMNA gives you a little ticket to fetch these and you can transfer it to someone who is allowed inside to get this stuff if they have photo id. I’d highly recommend you let someone else do this task as you’ll still not want to see your bike after the race and are more likely to roll it in front of some semi-truck out on Main Street as take it back to your hotel. FYI: to this day, a month later, I still loathe the site of my bike out on the balcony!
Surprisingly, I had no problem sleeping that night. I thought I’d still be all worked up but that was not the case. We got back to the hotel around 11pm. I had a blessed shower and then also took an epsom salts bath. I climbed into bed around 12:30am.
Race day + one:
Monday morning plan about 10 minutes to get out of bed. You’ll find things don’t work well. In particular your knees. My right knee is still sheer misery today. You can most definitely see who raced come Monday morning. There’s this unique shuffling slow walk you are forced into. And all stairs are your enemy! Stairs were, hands down, awful. The lifting ability your legs had is shot. So plan accordingly. We saw folks with canes and crutches Monday. We had a HUGE breakfast and basked in post-Ironman glow. We inched our way back to the High School to pick up our certificates and looked at the lineup of folks keen to register for next year’s race before heading to Mirror Lake Inn for a well earned spa escape. I had a real massage and spent time in the whirlpool, which was heavenly. That night, we were already doing the impossible, finding ourselves talking about how we may have improved our time. If I had taken less time in transitions and not walked those 2 miles I know I could have gone sub-13 hours. This, I fear, is a sign I’ll be doing another IM.
From Lake Placid we headed up to Sainte Adele, Quebec for 3 days pampering at L’eau a la bouche before flying down to Miami for a week’s cruise in the Caribbean.
And so it’s done now, save working through the post-Ironman depression. It remains one of the most empowering experiences of my life. One which I’d highly recommend you all attempt. You do become, truly, a different person having gone through the journey. Forever changed on levels difficult to explain.
* get a hotel within walking distance of the start/finish line
* get a kitchenette if you can
* make sure to cycle the out-and-back to Black Brook … it’s a deceiveing little 10km that you’ll do 4 times during the race
* do not think about what you’re doing. The way I handled the day was by segementing it: get to the start, swim one loop, get out, swim another loop, get to transition, ride the bike to Keane, ride the bike to Jay, etc
* take time to look around (by which I mean, enjoy the journey, chat with folks on route, read the signs and chalk greetings on road while you’re cycling, etc)
* get a watch with a timer and be religious to the point of fanatitism about your nutrition schedule. I knew I had to have 2 swigs of hammergel, one swig of E-load and one swig of water every 20 minutes
* have a post-race plan to cope with Ironman depression (we plan for months ahead our training, we plan the day to the nth degree but never plan the after bit)