Ironman Lake Placid
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run
July 23, 2017
Last year, I did what I thought was the hardest thing I would ever do, which was completing Ironman Lake Placid. Little did I know however, that a few months later I would do something even harder. Sign up for it again.
To say that Lake Placid 2016 was hard, would be an understatement. Before the race even started, I would get in a bike accident and be forced to do the race in a splint. This meant I couldn’t get in the aero position on the bike. Riding high caused me to have a lot more wind resistance than I would of liked. In the end, I would overcome that and make the 112 mile bike cutoff by just 5 minutes. Furthermore to make the cutoff that I was very aware of, I sprinted up the final ascents to make it. 6 minutes longer, and my race would have ended in failure; it was close and I was lucky. Those 5 minutes would haunt me through-out the year.
Then a month later, the itch started. Something was missing, I loved the training, the goal, and excitement of race day. Then there was the most amazing place on Earth; the finish line. I loved that finishing feeling. There is nothing else like it. At the same time, the fear of trying to do it again and falling short made me sick to my stomach. Trying again and falling short would have to be one of the worse feelings ever, and I did not want to risk facing that. I kept thinking about it; 5 minutes.. I get a flat tire or slip; then I don’t make the cut-off. It’s a scary thought. I wanted to do it again, but I didn’t want to fail. Friends and family would tell me that I finished it, and there was no need to go back to it, and nothing to prove.
For a few months, I was content; but eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to go back, and I wanted to do better. I knew I could take a lot of time off, and I wanted to at least try. I mean, you don’t try to do an Ironman unless you have that drive. It’s that very drive that would ultimately win the battle.
At 5:19pm on September 28th, I gave in, ignoring my fears, and signed up. At 5:21pm I threw up and started panicking. At 5:25 I was out the door to head to swimming practice. Here we go again!
Adjustments for 2017
Having gone through the race once, I knew exactly what to expect and had a great idea on what to do to get better.
My biggest adjustments would be in volume and nutrition.
When I reflected on my preparation in 2016, a few things jump to mind that I did not do well. Nutrition, logistics, and training principles all had significant room for improvement. Guided by a few off-season training reads (yes, you should take the off-season as a chance to educate yourself), and giving an assessment of my training calendar, I realized I wasn’t giving my body enough time to recover. To counter that, I wanted to change my focus to more intensity and less volume. For example, instead of squeezing in an hour ride before an hour of swimming, I would adjust to just do an hour and a half of biking; or just an hour of swimming. This helped keep me less stressed about finding time to exercise, and focus more on the workouts that matter.
Simply put, I focused on less volume, and higher intensity. The emphasis would be on higher quality workouts, and to allow my body more time to rest and recover for the next workout. Also, going into every workout, I would have a clear purpose on what I am trying to gain in this session. Training had to be deliberate. There was little point in doing so many workouts in a given day, when the quality would be poor, with an unclear goal other than “volume-volume-volume” principle I (like other triathletes) was shooting for
I also made it a point to make a note of how often and what I was taking as nutrition before, during, and after training. I wanted to learn how often my body needed and how it responded to Gatorade, bars, salt, gel, etc so I can plan effectively for race day.
Aside from this training perspective, knowing all the race logistics is beyond helpful. It made packing very easy and I must have brought half the stuff from the first go around. I applied a lot of ‘tricks’ this time; like applying electric tape to my transition bags so I can find them easier, putting a solo cup on top of them so water doesn’t get inside and wet the contents. The other underrated thing I learned, is that there is no sleeping the day before, there’s just too much nerves! So I made sure I slept really well all week to make up for the gap I’ll get on race day eve. Also, knowing where to go and when to do everything made me much more relaxed going in.
2017 Training Recap
In all, I would train around 40 hours less than I did the year before. I hit all my key work-outs (100 mile bike ride, 20 mile run, bricks, hills, etc), ” and was consistent through-out.
- Swim Totals:
- 2017: 83,816 yards (2360:06)
- 2016: 78,571 yards (2059:42)
- Bike Totals:
- 2017 Indoor: 956.4 miles
- 2017 Outdoor: 395.38 miles
- 2017 Total: 1351.78 miles
- 2016 Indoor: 1079 miles
- 2016 Outdoor: 415.95 miles
- 2016 Total: 1494.95 miles
- Run Totals:
- 2017: 235 miles
- 2016: 206 miles
In total, in 2016 I trained for 221 hours (1771 miles) , and 2017 I capped in at 192 hours (1793 miles). So despite training for 29 more hours in 2016, I actually managed to pull in 23 more miles. That was insane! Being fresher, actually resulted in more mileage too! By training less, I was able to actually get more volume!
When race day came along, I felt ready and excited; but also unbelievably nervous. The ‘5 minute nightmares’ started right as I began my taper…
Driving to Placid and packing everything up went by very quickly. Before I knew it, I was going to bed and unbelievably nervous and excited for race day…
I woke up at 3:15AM despite a 3:40 alarm waiting to sound off. Waking up early is a common thing for athletes on big days, and I find it best to get started setting up instead of forcing yourself back to sleep. After taking a shower, cutting my nails, applying race tattoos, applying sun block and body glide, and getting dressed; I had a bagel, banana, and Gatorade.
Transition opened at 4:30, and I set off out the door at 4:15. I made sure to leave an extra car key in my room, just in case something happened. Generally, you don’t want to leave anything valuable in your bags, but I was alone and I had to bring my phone and car keys with me. If you are in the same boat, I suggest bringing an extra car key on the trip. Worse case you can get a ride to your hotel to get the extra key and then go back to the car; otherwise you may be out of luck.
Setting up Transition
There is a good amount to do before the race. I need to drop off 2 special needs bags which are usually located far away from transition, which is why it’s important to give yourself a lot of time to do everything. I arrived at 4:45, dropped off my bike special needs bag, loaded my bike with a insulted bottle that I froze halfway to ice over night and filled with Gatorade that morning, pumped up my tires, and was ready to leave transition.
One problem, my hand was completely covered in blood! I found out when I saw a medic running in my direction. I looked behind me trying to see who was hurt, but she ran right at me.. I must have wiped my hand over my face without noticing, and I had blood on my face. Turns out, when I pumped my tires; I cut my hand on the wheel spoke! Anyway, she patched me up and warned me about a possible infection. On the bright side, this meant that I had access to the never before used and clean port-a-Johns, and didn’t have to wait in line. This was probably worth it.
After the stop at the medic, I went off to drop off my morning clothes bag and Run Special needs bag.. I drank a Gatorade and ate another bagel with salt at this point. It’s been 2 hours since my breakfast after-all. I took a quick dip in the lake to get warmed up, and I was off to wait in line for the start. I always recommend doing a warm-up swim to get a feel for the water, and to get your heart rate going. You want the heart rate spike to happen pre-race, not during!
Lake Placid is a dry start, which also offers self seeding. There are pacing signs ranging from under 1 hr, to 1:00-1:10, 1:10-1:20, 1:20-1:30… all the way down to 2 hours. If you put yourself in the correct spot, then you are likely to have a more enjoyable swim and won’t have many people swimming over you. You can also catch a nice draft if you get behind someone swimming slightly faster than you.
My advice in seeding is to be honest with yourself. Pick a realistic time, and choose that wave. Last year I did it in 1:32, so I was fairly confident the 1:20-1:30 swim was for me. I picked a spot in the middle of that wave, thinking I would do between 1:25-1:27; possibly faster if I get a nice draft.
So finally, after nearly 1000 words in my race report; I have come to the start of the race!
Mike Reilly himself greets everyone and wishes everyone off. Music is playing, people are smiling, and there is a buzz in the air. It’s amazing. I go through the start line and walk maybe 25 ft before it’s deep enough to swim. It’s a two loop swim and mentally I break it up into 4 parts. Going, coming back, going again, and back again. It helps keep things simple and small.
At the start of the swim, I’m deliberately going nice and easy, trying to gradually pick up speed throughout the swim. The plan is to make my way to the right side where I can find the mythical golden cable. If you don’t know, there is a yellow cable connecting all the markers under the water. By following this cable, you can swim straight without ever having to sight or pick your head out of the water. The problem is, that everyone else wants the same spot; so you may be crowded and may get hit a few times…
Of course that is exactly what happened to me around 15 minutes in. A woman smacked me hard and she ends up swimming right over me. (She’s lucky she’s also an Ironman, or she would have broken her hand). My left goggle became dislodged and I slowed down while I adjusted it. Even after the hit, I feel like I’m doing super well and at a great pace. After the first loop, I noticed my watch was stopped. When I got hit by that woman, she must have hit my button by mistake. I’m pretty mad because now I don’t know what my split time will be, and I’m not sure what my total race time will be.
Oh well, I can’t do anything about that! Next time I’ll take a mental note to check my start time as a backup. I had 2 watches on, 1 for the time to check for cutoffs and another for my race time; but I never thought my watch would be stopped. Lesson learned.
Eventually, I finish the rest of the swim uneventfully. I would figure out later my official swim time was 1:27:44, and my Garmin has the second loop taking 40 minutes, which means the first loop was 47 minutes, so a solid negative split there. The hit slowed me down some on the first lap I’m sure. I did see a woman later on with an ice pack on her hand, I’m sure I know why.
Last year, it took me 16 minutes to make it through T1, and I was very conscious of that. It’s around an 800 meter run from the lake to the changing tent, so I started running right away. I ran and got my changing bag (which I found easily bc of the tape I used on it) and got ready as fast as I could. There was no sitting and calming down, my heart was racing. When you make a cut off by 5 minutes, you take nothing for granted, I was moving as fast as I could. I dried up, put on my bike socks and shoes, stuffed a bagel in my mouth, ran out, grabbed my bike, and was off to the bike leg. T1 time would be 12:39, compared to 16:05 last year for a 3 and a half minute improvement!
This is when knowing the course is super helpful. I knew the first few miles are uphill, so I wasn’t worried about being 100% ready after transition. So I used these first few slow miles to finish my bagel, calm down, drink Gatorade, and get into a rhythm.
The race starts with an 8mile climb, 2 mile flat and then a long 20 mile fast downhill. This year, Placid added a freshly paved short out and back right before the famed Keene descent, which I liked.
Right off the bat, 3 miles in as I shifted for the first time; my chain dropped. Well, whatever, I pulled over and fixed it; and was on my way. If this was the worse thing that happens to me on the bike leg, I would be thrilled. Back on the bike I went!
Last year, I got nearly traumatized going down the Keene descent on the first loop and I dreaded it the second time through. This year, I was not looking forward to it to say the least; but funny thing. I went down, and you know what, it wasn’t that bad! Dare I say, it was even fun! I actually pedaled a little bit on the decline and hit over 40mph easily! I guess a year later, I’m much more comfortable with declines!
So after 35 miles on the bikes 56 mile loop course, most would say I was nearly there. Not the case. . The first 35 miles is easy/effortless (2300ft downhill), and the last 21 are all climbing back up that 2300 ft, and it is brutal! However, if you know this going in, then you can manage it quite well. I went in my little ring and took my time. I know there were 2 short descents on the back half, and I used them to recover.
I took my time on the climb back, and just stayed in my little ring, and spun quickly and efficiently. A small adjustment was also made on all the rest stops. Last year I would stop and get what I wanted myself, but this year I got it all on the bike! I successfully received my first 4 handoffs ever! During the entire bike leg, I only stopped at mile 25, special needs (56), 91, and again at 102.
I did my first loop at around 3:53, which was awesome! More importantly, it wasn’t even 12:30 yet, so even if it took me 5 hrs for the second loop, I would still make the bike cutoff. This was a big change from last year! I grabbed my bagel, refilled my cliff and kind bars, left the rest, and was on my way.
Going into the second loop, I was starting to get tired; but I knew I had an easy 30 miles ahead of me to recover. The second loop is also lonelier, as there is a lot more separation this time around. Also, the wind picks up significantly later in the afternoon, so the climb back to transition was a lot harder. I just stuck to the plan, and used my little ring to climb effortlessly. I didn’t need to hammer out any climbs, and wanted to save my legs as much as I could for the marathon. Towards the end, I did just want to be off the bike, so I pressed a little more than I should have though. I would do the second loop in 4:17; and overall would go from 8:42:42 to 8:15:44 this year, a 27 minute improvement!
At transition, I sat down and took a breath as I put on a fresh pair of socks, ate my bagel, stopped at the rest room, and was out for the run.
T2 was slow, 16:25 (compared to 14:16 last year); but I still gained 2 minutes in transition compared to last year.
The plan going in was to run conservatively (9-10 min miles), and then walk every aid station to recover and take in whatever fuel I thought I needed. This actually worked perfectly, and my splits were coming in at around 11-12 minutes for the first 13 miles; and slowed down to 14min/miles for miles 13-18. Then right at mile 19, I caught a stomach cramp. I suspect this was because I forced down a bagel at mile 13; where I prob should have just got water or something.. This was also around the time the sun went down, so mentally the races changes in the dark. It’s lonelier, and the crowds are disbursed. There was no recovering from the cramp though, as I would finish up the last 8 miles with significantly slower mile splits, most were walk/run efforts that were probably slower than if I would have just walked the entire thing: 17:30, 15:50, 16:29, 17:50, 17:02, 17:31, 16:48, 14:39. finishing in 6:01:56, compared to 5:58:08 last year. I really wanted a faster marathon time, and by a lot. Having a slower run was a big let down, especially when I was so close. More bricks will be added to training next time! Anyway, on to the finish.
Let me just say, that the Oval is the most magical place in the world in the final hour. The place is packed and people are just screaming for you to come on down.
In other races, dozens and dozens of people finish at the same time. In an Ironman, you have the chance to be all alone at the finish line. and guess what, everyone is screaming for you! It’s the one race, where the last people to finish get the most yells. I ran the last quarter mile with someone, and we organized so that each of us would come in by ourselves. Besides, you want a great finishing photo; so make sure you go in alone!
The cramp went away at the finish line, and I was able to charge in. Mike Reilly himself was there, and I yelled at him, ‘Say it, say it, say it!’… and guess what. He pointed at me, and said ‘You are an Ironman… again!’…. 140.6 miles later, and those 5 words made it all worth it! A few miles earlier I was cramping badly, and just trying to keep moving. The finish line rejuvenated me and made all the pain go again.
Last year I finished so late that they had no pizza left. Believe it or not, the pizza was my last motivation last year. “5 more miles until pizza”, so I was crushed when I saw they had no pizza left for me last year. However, This time there was pizza for me and even though I couldn’t think of eating I made sure to taste that pizza! I’ve been wanting it for a year! And it was glorious! (It was actually disgusting, but who cares).’ Lol
As for the final results, I was hoping for at least 45 minutes, but in the end i took a near 30 minute PR, finishing in 16:14:37 compared to 16:44:04 last year!
I’m satisfied with the result, and I’m eager to head back to try to get another PR. Ironman Lake Placid turns 20 next year, so who knows?
People will always ask, ‘How bad did it hurt’.. well; it hurt a lot.. You don’t train so it doesn’t hurt, you train so you can take the pain, and keep moving forward. Your body may yell at you to stop, and 99 days out of 100; you should listen… However, on Ironman Race Day.. that is the 1 day you need to tell your body to shut-up and keep going. It doesn’t matter if you are going 140.6 miles, climbing Everest, trying to start a business, going for that Degree, or any thing else that you decide you want to tackle… if you have a goal, you need to make a plan, follow it, and keep going; even when things get hard.. Nothing is impossible, impossible is nothing; you got to keep going… in Ironman and in life.