Ironman Lake Placid (long report)


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  1. #1

    Ironman Lake Placid (long report)

    My wife and I arrived at Lake Placid on Thursday, so we had plenty of time to unpack, get things sorted out, scout the whole area for places to eat, spectator spots for her and my son who will be arriving on Saturday, and visit the Ironman expo. I bought a new Ironman sleeveless bike jersey, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, and a few other various (and over-priced) items. Man, what a killing they make on this stuff…I’m in the wrong business! I went to registration, and on the way out ran into Gary, followed by May who was hanging out with us as a volunteer “finish line catcher” and general Ironman groupie.

    Friday morning I decided to go for a brief swim, to check out the course. It’s a double loop where you have to exit the water for a few yards, before diving back in for the second lap. I ended up swimming one lap of the course (1.2 miles) in 38 minutes, and it was pretty helpful as I got to see how many buoys there were and how easy it was to sight by using them. The course is counter-clockwise which works well for me since I’m strictly a left-side breather. In the evening, Gary, May and I head down to the athlete’s welcome dinner, which was OK since it was free for Gary and me, but a rip off for May since as a non-participant she had to pay $25. Yow! For pasta and salad and a chicken leg???

    Saturday I got all my gear together in the various transition bags. They give you 5 of them. T-1 bag, T-2 bag, special needs bike bag (to be picked up at the halfway point of the bike loop), special needs run bag (same idea), and a morning dry clothes bag for all your stuff after you put on your wetsuit. I labeled the bags with pre-printed numbers and brought the T-1 and T-2 bags along with my bike down to the transition area. I had been obsessing all morning about what to carry on the bike and run and what to put in my special needs bags. There were aid stations about every 10 miles of the bike course and every mile of the run course, so I settled on the following.

    T-1: Helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, socks, gloves, bib shorts, sleeveless cycling jersey, arm warmers (didn’t need them), race number on a race belt, 2 flasks of Hammer Gel, 2 packages peanut butter cookies (hate energy bars), zip-loc bag with 21 endurolyte tablets (3 per hour for a potential 7 hour ride). In addition I put 2 bottles of PowerAde in the rear seat holder on my bike, and filled the aero bar bottle with plain water.

    Bike special needs: Bottle of PowerAde, 2 flasks of Hammer Gel, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    T-2: Running shorts, running tank, shoes, fresh socks, 2 flasks of Hammer Gel, fanny pack with bottle of PowerAde, zip-loc bag with 21 more endurolyte tablets.

    Run special needs: I decided with all the run aid stations that I wouldn’t need it.

    Morning bag: Wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, along with an energy gel and a bottle of water to take right before the start.

    I pumped up the new tires to 110 psi, racked my bike and went to a carbo-load dinner with Gary and May. I set two alarms for 4:15 AM, with one of them being a battery operated clock, since I’m anal about things like a freak power shortage screwing up a years worth of preparation! I get in bed at 10 PM, and miraculously fall asleep right away, and sleep soundly until I wake on my own at 4:00 AM…turns out I don’t need the alarms after all.

    I usually have cereal for breakfast, and brought all my regular stuff with me, but I had thoughts of perhaps the milk not agreeing with my stomach in case I was too nervous, so I settled on a pb&j sandwich, a banana, and grapefruit juice. Our motel was about an eighth of a mile from the transition area, right in the center of town, so I packed up my wetsuit and headed down to body marking about 5:30 AM. There wasn’t much to do except get numbers marked on, and plenty of volunteers made this a quick process, so I headed up to the swim start and waited for the cannon to fire for the women pros who were given a head start on the age groupers. There were no men pros at this race. Surprisingly I was pretty calm. I thought I’d be a bundle of nerves, but I chalked it up to a basic philosophy that I’d adopted in the final days. I decided to look at this strictly as a long day of moderately paced swimming, biking, and running, and that the only way to get through it successfully was to keep telling myself “It’s the same as a long training swim, a century bike ride, a long training run.” I think it worked, since there were no pre-race jitters, and I felt well prepared.

    I had a plan to start the swim near the back and off to the side, since it’s a mass start with nearly 2,000 athletes. Hmmm, seems like everyone else has that idea; they’re all hanging around in the shallows. The official start is a ways from shore, in deep water, so maybe everyone was avoiding the hassle of treading water while they waited. I decide, what the hell, and swim out to place myself directly behind the front row of swimmers. I probably don’t belong here, based on my projected swim time of 1:20, but I figure I’ll handle the crush of swimmers when it comes. The cannon goes off at 7:00 AM, I start my heart rate monitor, and 75% of the first loop is like swimming in a bathtub with an octopus….there was a constant sea of arms, legs, and other various rubberized body parts. I got battered around on a regular basis, but never hit severely hard enough to interrupt my rhythm. It was a bit hard to swim smoothly for the first 10 minutes, but I’d occasionally get a clear lane and be able to follow the feet of someone ahead of me. I figured all this commotion was surely going to result in a crappy swim split, but I checked my watch at the exit of the first lap…39 minutes, wow, right on my target! Back in for the second lap. Now I’m on cruise control, swimming steadily, never once during the entire swim do I feel like I’m pushing it too hard. A funny thought passes through my head on the second lap that I almost feel I’m putting out as much effort as I would by sitting on the sofa watching TV. It’s ludicrous, but not really, since I’m so relaxed. Later, a review of my heart rate graph shows an average of 142 bpm. I started at 150, and slowly tapered off from there, down to 134 bpm near the finish. It shows how relaxed I was, without a loss in time.

    Finally, out of the water. 1:20:02 which was 19th out of the 40 in my age group (55-59) and 1433rd overall. That’s good, there are 500 swimmers still behind me. It’s not my strongest event, but held my own in the middle of my A.G. Run up to the carpet, lie down and the wetsuit strippers rip the suit off. They had male and female strippers, so I make sure I pick out a couple of cute girls to do the work. Jog up the carpeted aisle they had laid for us for the long run to the transition area. On the way I see my wife and son and we yell to each other.

    On the run down to T-1, I have to pee so badly that I can’t make it to the porta-potty. So I pee in my speedo while running into T-1 and let it run down my leg. I think one of the volunteers notices and yells “Bathrooms in the rear of T-1”…hey buddy, sorry, I can’t hold it! I take my time in T-1 since I want to settle down and a couple extra minutes won’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things here. This was my plan for the day, not to rush the transitions, it’s a long day; my goal is to finish. Put on bib shorts and bike jersey…nice big pockets to hold everything. I’m planning on a couple of 3-1/2 hour bike loops, since it’s a VERY hilly course, and I figure a 16 mph average will leave me something for the run (I hope). On the first part of loop one, I start out pretty aggressively, and reach the big 6-mile downhill in good time. The Kamikaze descender in me takes over and I hit 50 mph on the ride down, passing dozens in the process. At the 10-mile mark, the next section of road is flattish and rolling, and I lay on the aero bars for the entire stretch, at least another 10 miles. Then the hills start. I’ve ridden the course in advance and know what to expect. At the Black Brook turn, I see May on the side of the road taking pictures. I ride out to the turn around and on the way back I ask her where Gary is. She reports he’s 20 minutes behind me. Next it’s the hard climbing back up towards town, and at one stretch there is a gauntlet of wildly cheering spectators, right before Northwoods Rd., making it seem like you are climbing a mountain pass in the Tour de France…so cool!

    A young woman passes me on the bike. She pulls along side and says, “I’m going to ask you something stupid. How come your bike says ‘Alison’ on the top tube…you’re obviously not a female?” I had ordered special white script decals and the name was prominently displayed on the tube, almost factory-looking. I answered, “She’s one of my inspirations, the reason why I’m here today. Without her motivation, I doubt I’d be an Ironman by the end of this evening.” She looked at me and replied, “That is the coolest thing I’ve heard since I arrived at Lake Placid. Good luck; I know you’ll make it!” And off she pedaled, probably thinking “Alison” was my wife, not knowing that the Canadian woman who’d written a great series of articles had gotten me to go to Lake Placid last year as a spectator, watch her struggle to conquer her own demons, and provide the impetus for me to do the same. I owe her a great deal, and the name on the bike assured that she’d be riding along with me on my Ironman.

    Back into town after the first 56 miles, I stop for a few minutes for my special needs bag, and eat the sandwich that I’ve put there. My time for the 1st leg is 3:17:12. After a bottle swap, it’s back out on the second loop. This one should be a bit slower as the hills really start to wear on you. I keep drinking as much as I can, and filling my aero bottle with cold water at every aid station. In the course of the 112 miles, I see at least a dozen people with flat tires and one guy who suffered a bad crash near Black Brook and had to be taken away in an ambulance. The scare still does not deter me from blasting the 6-mile downhill again, and I peak out at 52 mph on the descent this time. This time on the Black Brook loop, I see Gary as I’m headed out and he is on his way in. I calculate that he’s about 10 miles behind me, but he’ll surely catch me on the run. I hit my low point of the ride on the hills past Whiteface Mountain, but I pound up the final climb and fly into town, my second lap split being a bit slower time of 3:34:27 and a total time of 6:51:39 which is 11th out of 40 in my age group and 1239th overall. I’m real happy with that…biking is my strong point. I peaked my heart rate on the bike at 161 bpm on one of the climbs, and averaged 135 bpm for the 112 miles, which I thought was surprisingly low. It probably is the reason why I felt so good at the end of the bike loop. I could have stomped the climbs a lot more, pounding a bigger gear out of the saddle, maybe knocked an additional 10 or 15 minutes off my time, but then I would have felt like crap coming into transition. The thought that I have to run/walk/stumble through a marathon never crosses my mind.

    Into T-2, I’m feeling surprisingly fresh, and I change my clothes, re-fasten my race belt, grab my fanny pack with the PowerAde and load up with two new gel flasks. Somehow I forget the zip-loc bag of endurolytes. The first section out of town is downhill and I make good time, seeing that running is my weakest event and I’m elated that my first mile split is 10:00, and the 2nd and 3rd ones are around 11:00. I know I’m going to have to resort to a run/walk strategy to get through this, but I had outside hopes that I could perhaps run the first 13 miles before walking. A couple minutes after the 5-mile point, both my calves suddenly cramp up big time, and I go from a steady run to a walk. Wow, I don’t know if it’s from not taking any more endurolytes or what, but I walk for a couple minutes and then run again, this time at a lot slower pace. It still hurts a lot, but I’m able to do a shuffle/run on the flats and downhills, and walk the uphills. I figure this should be my best strategy. I decide instead of saving something for the end that I will push as hard as I can now, in case I need to walk a LOT at the end, I don’t want to run into a time issue. I see Gary as I’m headed back in and I tell him my legs are killing me and that he’ll probably catch me by the 13-mile mark. By now I’m walking and running at about a 50/50 ratio. I walk up the steep hill into town. I have to stop to remove a couple of small pebbles from one shoe, then run downhill out of town before walking the next uphill before the 14-mile mark. Sure enough, Gary comes up behind me. He’s on a limited run/walk basis, so we commiserate a bit before he pulls steadily away. I plug on, now walking about 60% of each mile. I keep using wet sponges from the aid stations to squeeze on my head to keep my body core temperature down, and I drink as much Gatorade and water as I can, though I’m quickly getting disgusted with the Gatorade. I try some chicken soup broth and the saltiness seems to help. The aid station volunteers are fantastic. I try eating some pretzels for the salt, but they are so dry that even with water I can’t stomach them and I toss them away. Finally at the 19-mile point, I have to stop running all together, or risk possibly cramping so bad I can’t walk at all, and jeopardizing my finish. I have 4 hours to do the last 7 miles and I figure I can walk the entire way and still make it, even in my hobbling condition. I tell myself “Don’t do anything stupid. You can make it from here and be an Ironman. Just get it done and to hell with your overall time.” So I walk the next 5 miles as fast as I can. I hit the hill going into town and the crowd is deafening at points, thousands of people screaming. I know at this point I’m going to finish and have plenty of time to spare, but the crowd eggs me on and I end up running UP the big hill for the next half-mile. I have to walk the brief out and back section, but I know I have one more short run left in me, and I’m going to save it for the finishing chute…being the big poser that I am! One quarter mile to go and a spectator tells me that there is no one in front or behind me for quite a way, so I should run and have the chute to myself. I start running and once into the Olympic speed skating oval, I pick up steam. The noise from the crowd is tremendous, and I start high-fiving people in the finishing chute. I get to run through the finish line tape, a medal gets hung around my neck, and I get to hug May who is there as the catcher. She points out my wife and son right next to the finish line. It was so noisy that I missed them when I came through, so I run over to give Patti a kiss. So cool. My marathon time is not great…6:27:47 and a total race time of 15:05:47, but I don’t care…I’m an Ironman and any way you say it or spell it, still sounds so great. Like John Collins (the original founder of the Ironman) said; “Swim 2.4 miles, ride a bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles…then brag for the rest of your life!”

    My calves are like steel knots and I have to keep walking to avoid totally locking up, but otherwise I feel pretty good. I speculate that I could have easily knocked an hour or more off my run time without all the walking, but I have no regrets. The goal was simply to finish and I did that. I had no bike mechanical problems, no flat tires, no hydration, eating, stomach or intestinal issues. I’d heard stories of people having all sorts of troubles, and I did see a number of people getting sick on the run, as well as 3 or 4 being taken away in ambulances. My day was remarkably free of drama, other than the leg cramps, so to survive 15 hours of that and not suffer any real bad patches made me feel that I was very well rested going into the race, and had prepared myself to the best of my ability and time limitations. I could always do better, but that will be for next year. I got the first one under my belt; no one can ever take that away from me, so now I can fine tune the details on my second race.

    Now the hard part of the whole day; I have to push my bike up the STEEP hill to the hotel. Fortunately my son is along to carry all my gear bags, and I make it to the hot shower, collapse on the bed for an hour to watch some TV. I fall asleep…and sleep for 4 hours! I can’t seem to do any more so I get up, pack the gear, and head down to breakfast before driving out of town. I call May on the cell phone and it goes something like this;

    Me: “Are you going to register for 2006 before leaving town?”
    May: “Are you?”
    Me: “I don’t know, the bike part is hard, the hills kill your legs, I suffered on the run.”
    May: “You’re a bike animal. If you suffered, it’s gonna kill me!”
    Me: “It’s gonna hurt, no doubt about it…I don’t think I’m gonna sign up again.”
    May: “OK, me neither, maybe I’m not ready for it.”
    Me: “Yeah, give it some more time.”
    May: “Yep, I think so!”
    Me: “Bye!”
    May: “Bye!”

    I drive home. I read the forums. I see where people are getting online and signing up for 2006. I log onto and suddenly my charge card is $425 heavier. I guess I didn’t learn my lesson. I call up May.

    Me: “I signed up for 2006.”
    May: “You did?” (hysterical laughter)
    Me: “I’m so stupid!”
    May: “I think I’m gonna sign up!” (more hysterical laughter)

    See everyone next year!
    "Never take no cut-offs, and hurry along as fast as you can." Virginia Reed, Donner party survivor

  2. #2
    Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.

  3. #3
    pizza's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Suffern, NY/Times Square/Killington, VT
    I loved that report..

    A friend of mine is a reasonably well-respected triathalon coach (He said he completed 8 ironmans, including at least 4 at Lake Placid) and it really inspired me to learn more about the event and maybe volunteer.

    The thing he said that intrigued me the most: the party at the finish line is like no other - and for a reason: the noise they make can be heard miles away, and it inspires the participants to finish before running out of time.

    Sounds like fun.. I'm not sure I'd ever want to do an ironman, but I'd definitely like to volunteer.

  4. #4
    bvibert's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Torrington, CT
    Awesome TR thanks for sharing with us!

  5. #5

    Ironman Lake Placid NY - Bicycle Setup...

    Hey Max,

    Regarding the bicycling portion of the event, without getting in brands and so forth, what are you riding on? Frame material & size? Wheel-sets, tires, gearing, cockpit configuration, clothing stuff like helmet, shoes, pedals, gloves, bib/shorts, jersey....elaborate as much as you want…

    Over the 112-miles what was the general terrain like? How did you feel you did with your time? How was the traffic control?
    Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.

  6. #6

    Re: Ironman Lake Placid NY - Bicycle Setup...

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Schuessler
    Hey Max,

    Regarding the bicycling portion of the event, without getting in brands and so forth, what are you riding on? Frame material & size? Wheel-sets, tires, gearing, cockpit configuration, clothing stuff like helmet, shoes, pedals, gloves, bib/shorts, jersey....elaborate as much as you want…

    Over the 112-miles what was the general terrain like? How did you feel you did with your time? How was the traffic control?
    For the past 2 years I've been using a Cannondale Ironman 2000 bike, triathlon-specific frame design, 56 cm, aluminum tubes with carbon fiber fork. The wheels are Mavic Ksyrium, 700c size, since I'm 6'1" tall and the 650c wheels are too small for the bike frame size. I tend to stand up a lot while climbing hills, and I'm a big gear pusher rather than a spinner (a la Jan Ullrich), and I was using a 12x23 9-speed cassette to do Lake Placid. The pedals are Look models, and using Sidi T-1 triathlon shoes. I rode with regular cycling bib shorts and a bike jersey rather than a 1-piece triathlon skin suit, mostly because of the storage capacity in the jersey pockets which helped a lot over the course of 112 miles.

    The Lake Placid course is very hilly, equivalent to riding 100+ miles around the White Mt area. There were no long climbs, just a lot of "rollers" that constantly showed you had to get back the equivalent of the 6-mile long descent into the town of Keene NY. There were a lot of opportunities to lay on the aero bars and cruise in the big chainring, but there was plenty of out-of-the-saddle climbing too. The course really tends to wear you out on the 2nd lap.

    I noticed after going over the final time splits of all the competitors that nearly everyone is slower on the second lap, due to the hills. The time differences per lap average between 15 to 30 minutes or more over the course of 56 miles. Mine was 17 minutes. There are varying philosophies as to how to attack the bike loops. Some people (myself included) tend to push a bigger gear and stand more on the climbs. Others like to sit and spin an easier gear at high cadence, which supposedly is easier on your legs and causes less lactic acid build up. Presumably, this saves your legs a bit more for the marathon. I haven't put this theory into practice, but I guess a lot of it depends on your cycling technique and I've always felt I'm better off sticking to what seems to work best for me, power-wise.

    The real key is to stay on top of your hydration and nutrition, since bike riding sometimes gives you a false sense of security. You get a natural cooling effect from the wind and don't feel the need to drink much, but by the time you start feeling thirsty, you're usually quite dehyrdrated. It's a cycle that's impossible to catch, so it ends up killing you during the marathon. The secret is to practice in training what you plan to do in the race. I can't subsist totally on either Gatorade or plain water, so I use a combination of the two, carrying two bottles of Gatorade on my rear-seat rack, and then keeping the aerobar bottle filled with plain water. I can drink from this through the straw while riding, so I switch back and forth between it and the Gatorade, using it to wash down a shot of Hammer Gel about every 30 minutes. In addition I take an Endurolyte tablet about every half hour, to stay ahead of electrolyte depletion.

    During the bike course, they had aid stations every 10 miles so it was easy to grab a fresh bottle of Gatorade and water each time and replenish my supply. I felt that I hit my hydration and nutrition plan right about on the mark, since I had no gastro-intestinal issues, no severe cramping (except on the run), and was able to get down a bit of solid food every so often on the bike (mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which agree with me quite easily). The bottom line though is "Nothing new on race day" and to prepare by trying absolutely EVERYTHING first in training!
    "Never take no cut-offs, and hurry along as fast as you can." Virginia Reed, Donner party survivor

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