It has been a few weeks since Lake Placid and I have been thinking about how to summarize everything that happened during that event and have not been able to find the words to describe it. Exciting. Exhausting. Inspiring. All are things that come to mind when I think about the days that lead up to the IronMan as well as the event itself.
To start, I did the event as a fund raiser for the Multiple Myeloma Research foundation. I wanted a little bit of extra incentive to help push myself and force me to commit to being prepared for this event. I am proud to say, that I reached my $5,000 fund raising goal and as a team we raised over $300,000.
I am really glad that I did my first IronMan as part of this MMRF Team, the help and support they gave definitely reduced the stress in getting things lined up and knowing my family that came up to watch would be well taken care of while I was on the course racing.
We were lucky and got into town a few days before the race. We were staying right in Lake Placid, so it made it very easy to get accustomed to the Lake and the “cable”. It took me a couple of swims to get comfortable with the cable. Getting close to it at first really freaked me out. But after getting to swim the course for a couple of days it actually became quite comforting and I didn’t have to sight much at all.
The race itself was the well oiled machine that is IronMan. Checking in was a piece of cake.
Getting my equipment into the transition was easy and the volunteers were really helpful in explaining the flow of the transition and how to best line things up. I have never had my bike photographed going into transition, but they were taking every precaution to make sure you are going to get your gear back.
The night before the race, I was tossing and turning as usual. I went to bed around 8p knowing I was going to get up around 4a, but I was lucky if I slept a couple of hours. A combination of dogs that wanted to play, anxiety for the race and fear of oversleeping and missing it. I didn’t oversleep, grabbed my cup of coffee and walked into town to drop off my special needs bags and get prepped for the day. The air was really calm, but the town was already buzzing. A couple of the restaurants opened at 3a for breakfast. People were wandering around town dropping their bags off at the bike and run special needs areas. I had my headphones on and was just trying to focus on ticking the things on my pre-race checklist off and keep my nerves in check.
Then it was time to line up in the swim corral with 3,000 other nervous folks wearing silver, pink and green caps. They fired the cannon and off went the pros, but the age group start didn’t seem to be going as smoothly as the organizers had hoped. 10 people into the water at 10 second intervals and the pack was not moving. After 20 minutes, the pros were getting ready to swing through and head back out onto the second lap and I hadn’t even hit the beach yet. That is when things changed and it was a mass start, they started letting the full staging group go at once. So there was no clear line, just a bunch of people churning and flailing trying to get position. I waited for a few seconds to let the people take off to try and find some clean water near the cable and get down to business. As soon as my face hit the water, I noticed I was not nervous any longer. It was time to make all of the hard work of the past year pay off. I found my rhythm within the first 200 yards and started passing people. I ran through my checklist to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself harder than I should be. But no, I was right where I wanted to be. People didn’t self stage themselves in the right place and were slower than the group, and the swim was starting to get physical, not in effort but in full-body contact. The first lap was spent not holding a line, but swimming around other people trying to keep my tempo. Coming around the second turn, a group of pros came through and they were not shy about using you for “leverage”. I felt a hand come down on my back, and pull me back and push me down all at the same time. When the body had slid over top of me I saw a cluster of silver capped people (the pros were wearing silver swim caps) already a few yards ahead of me picking people off one-by one. The second lap, things had stretched out a little bit more and I was able to get to the wire and just hold it the whole lap.
When getting out of the water I got to encounter the mythical wet suit strippers. I was fumbling trying to unzip my wet suit while running across the beach. A man stopped me and in one motion had my wet suit unzipped and I was on my ass sitting on the ground. One more fluid motion, my wet suit was off my ankles and I was being helped up with a pat on the back and sent down to transition. This was the first time I had seen the crowd, running through a half mile chute that is three to four deep with people cheering is really amazing. I had to keep my energy in check, cause the adrenaline really starts to surge here.
Getting through the transition was pretty straight-forward, get changed, pee in a trough, find bike, start pedaling. I was happy to be getting on the bike, but kept chanting my mantra – Don’t squeeze the tube. Don’t squeeze the tube.
Endurance was once described to me as a tube of tooth paste, there is only so much of it and it is really hard to get it back into the tube once it is squeezed out. So I kept telling myself to take it easy, no matter how good I felt I still had a long bike ride and then a marathon.
The course was very well marshaled and the roads were in really good shape. I had one part that I was nervous about, the downhills coming out of town into Keene Valley. These downhills are known for high speeds, potential high winds, and some spectacular crashes. Well all made themselves known to me. I was riding with wheels that were deeper than I am used to and the winds were definitely playing with them a little bit. So I was being somewhat cautious when I came around a corner to a bunch of flashing lights and a yard sale of bike equipment strewn across the road into the other lane. Someone had just ended their Lake Placid journey sooner than expected. The back half of the course was pretty uneventful, so rollers but nothing that was really painful. But after the turn around and you make the right turn to start head back to Lake Placid, that is when the climbing starts. In all of the course reconnaissance I had done, all of the focus was on the three bears. I would say the climb that starts when coming off of 9N is much worse than the three bears. Don’t get me wrong, the three bears are not to be taken too lightly, but there are some other climbs on the course to not be overlooked.
Coming through town had a “No Pass” zone along the lake which was nice because a lot of people were lined up and down the street, including the great folks at MMRF who had a tent set up and a large cheering section every time I went past. The second lap was very similar to the first, trying not to squeeze the tube too much, eating every 20 minutes, and trying not to crash on the downhill. Glad to say, I was successful on all accounts and made it back to the transition in one piece with fuel still in the engine for the run.
I knew the run was going to be a very mental run for me. There are no people along River Road except for the folks at the aid stations, there is a big-ass climb coming back into town from River Road, and the efforts of the day were starting to add up. The first 13.1 mile lap went well, I was able to keep my pace pretty steady and didn’t stop running except to get food and drinks at the aid stations. The second lap is where things started to get a little weird.
Around mile 20, as I looked down the road things started to get a little wavy. The trees started bending and waving at me. I thought, that was strange, maybe I should walk for a couple minutes. The sun was starting to set and I felt a little bit of a chill against my sun burned skin. My legs were aching, my head was heading towards a really dark place and I still had a little over six miles to go. I told myself I would walk to the next aid station, find some candy and pick back up after that. When I got to the aid station, I grabbed a cup of water, some Gatorade, a Red Bull and pounded them all down. Then a guy asked if I wanted some chicken broth, I threw everything I had in my hands away to grab that cup of broth. Warm, salty, brothy goodness. I had two more cups and could feel my body responding positively. I was able to start running again and made it off River Road. Next hurdle was getting up the hill by the ski jumps. I told myself I could walk when I reached the top. I made it to the top and figured, I didn’t need to walk after all. Then as I started getting closer and closer into town, you could hear the noise level rise. Getting back into town and hearing the crowds and music, gave me the boost that I needed. People along the side of the road cheering you on by name is such a boost. Coming into the last few miles was so exciting, but the out and back along the side of the lake seemed WAY LONGER than it had any other time. You go from a super loud and high energy environment to a quiet lonely street. I had to keep telling myself I was almost done and I didn’t need to walk. The volume starts to pick up again, each step the music getting louder, hearing a cheering crown, seeing people again. When I entered the oval I felt a wave of emotions come over me. My eyes immediately welled up with tears. But they were quickly gone as people were hanging over the boards with their hands out stretched for high-fives. I really wanted to slow down and enjoy my time coming through the finish.
I slapped every hand that was outstretched to me. Hearing Mike Reilly say my name before I had even gotten to the red carpet, slapping hands seeing my friends and family along the finishing rail was so amazing. Actually crossing the line was AMAZING and I have been trying to find words to explain it to people, but they just don’t seem to do it justice.
I could not have made it this far without the help of so many people.
First and foremost, my wife, dogs and family. They have put up with me being gone for almost every weekend either riding, running or racing somewhere for months on end leaving home projects unfinished.
My friends who have supported me and listened to me “Blah blah IronMan blah blah blah” Thank you. A big thank you to Sweeney and his inner-hummingbird for flying all over Lake Placid with Alison getting all of the great photos on this post as well as cheering and rooting me on.
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation for giving me the opportunity to raise money for such a great organization and help others.
Denis and the great folks at WaveOne Open Water Swimming. The swim was my biggest concern and your coaching and guidance helped me not only finish the swim, it gave me the confidence I needed to know I could get out there and crank out a good time.
I have been asked if I will ever do it again. I have already started registering for events next year. Training starts again on Monday.