Thursday, July 24, 2008
2008 Ironman Lake Placid
First, a warning: This is going to be l-o-o-o-o-ng. I can already feel it. I tend to write long anyway, and I'm still on a massive adrenaline high from the weekend. If you read this, you're bound to get a very big dose of Ironman USA. I've spent the last few days re-living the race and writing down notes and thoughts and collecting pictures from the day and trying to keep my smile under control. I might even have to split this post into two parts. Let's see how it goes...
After a delicious early dinner at Lisa G's, we got back to the hotel and I finished packing up my stuff, preparing my bottles of Infinit and running through my many checklists. I took a warm shower and got into bed by about 9:30. I was pretty tired and didn't have any real trouble falling or staying asleep.
When my alarm went off at 3:15, I think I was already awake. Either way, I was ready to be awake! I was out of bed in a second and making my oatmeal and tea. My knee and back/butt had been feeling pretty good for the last few days and thankfully I didn't have any pain that morning. I tried my best to be quiet and let my poor wife sleep, but she woke up and I have to admit I was happy for the company. I stepped outside onto the balcony and even though it was still dark (of course), the skies looked OK and it was actually pretty warm. The first thought that went through my head was something like "Oh shit, it's going to be a hot one today." It had been really hot and sunny on Saturday and that would have made for tough racing conditions. But, you can't change the weather and there was no time - or reason - to dwell on it. By 3:30, I was back under the covers and enjoying my oatmeal:
After finishing my oatmeal, we actually turned off the lights and I half-slept for about 20 minutes. I was amazed that I was able to do that!
At 5:05, we met up with my parents and were walking out of the hotel towards the Olympic Oval. My first stop was body-marking.
After I was marked, I made sure my transition bags were in order and went and did a final bike check, including dropping off my Infinit, filling up my aerodrink bottle and pumping up my tires. The next stop was to drop off the "special needs" bags and finally a pit stop at the porta-potties. My stomach felt OK, but not totally "right". I'll avoid being graphic and just say that I felt pressure all through my gut. Probably just nerves. Hopefully, just nerves. The morning was flying by. It was already 6:15 and it was time to meet up with the family on the beach, put on the wetsuit and get moving.
After a few minutes with my family, I decided to make another trip to the porta potties and this time when I got back, it was really really time to go. This year, like in 2007, IronDog made his appearance to help cheer me on.
A little light rain had started falling. "Hmmm..." I thought to myself, "The forecast didn't call for rain until the afternoon." Whatever, no time to worry about that now! I made sure my suit was on right, hugged Elizabeth and my parents and ran down into the water.
After running down to the lake entrance and jumping into the water, I looked back at the crowd. It was huge. It is such a spectacular sight to look around and see thousands and thousands of people standing on the shore waiting for their athlete to start on this adventure. I remembered how it felt last year and starting having that same feeling of overwhelming joy. But this year, I was calm and relaxed. I felt absolutely no pressure to do anything but go out and enjoy the day. I made my way over to the same point as last year - on the far left hand side, close to the dock, about four or five people from the front. The music was blaring, Mike Reilly was making final announcements that I couldn't hear and all of us athletes were treading water, trying not to kick each other too hard... yet. The video and camera crews were on the dock, the helicopter was circling overhead. It was loud, but I felt calm. Perfect.
I kept waiting for Sabbath's "Ironman" to start, and maybe they played it, but I honestly don't remember it. All I remember is looking at my watch, noticing it was right about 7AM and then, the gun. "Boom!" And we were off.
With around 2,400 athletes in the water, all moving towards the same place, you'd expect some contact. You should expect a lot of contact. Last year I didn't think it was that bad, but figured maybe I got lucky. This year, I had another pretty smooth swim. There was some kicking and a little flailing and I did take one good shot to the right temple that caused my goggles to suction to my eye for a scary second, but nothing so bad as to even really interrupt my strokes. Right from the start, I felt good and strong and relaxed. I was breathing easy. I went right to the underwater cable (there's a bright yellow cable about 10 feet under water that follows the buoys around the course - if you can get a spot where you can see the cable and can swim relatively straight, there's almost no need to sight during the swim) and followed that up the course. I worked to find good drafts and was fortunate to find them.
My goal for the swim was to come in somewhere around last year's time of 1:07. As I approached the end of the first loop, I wondered about my time. I felt like I was swimming well, but was taking it easy - maybe (hopefully not) too easy. I knew it was a good swim, but had no idea how good. As I got out of the water to do the little jog around the dock to jump in for the second loop, I looked at my watch: 30:30. Hot damn. That put me on pace for a huge swim PR. And I felt good. It was right then that I realized that this was going to be a good day.
First loop swim: 30:33
Average heart rate: 127
I jumped in for the second lap and continued my easy, stress-free swimming. The second loop felt less crowded because we were more spread out and therefore it was a little harder to find a good draft. At some point during this lap, I started feeling rain drops. I knew that if I could feel the rain, it must be coming down hard. Whatever. My bike would be wet, but if this storm was anything like the ones the prior days, it would be over before I was out of the water. I finished the swim strong, and noticed that the rain had not stopped.
Second loop swim: 32:16
Average heart rate: 138
Total swim: 1:02:49
Pace: 1:39/100 meters
Overall place: 320
Age group place: 53
My swim was a 4 1/2 minute PR! That's a 7% improvement! And that's on a much reduced swim volume. I had been worried about the swim, thinking that I'd be lucky to swim another 1:07. Boo-yah!
I ran out of the water, dropped down in front of some wetsuit strippers and shazam! my wetsuit was off and I was running down to the transition area in the Oval. I shouted and waved to my parents as I ran by on my way to transition. I grabbed my bag and ran into the transition/changing tent. A volunteer appeared in front of me, helped me sort everything out and I was out the back door headed to my bike. On Saturday I decided that I would ride without socks. Except when it's too cold, I generally ride without socks. For longer rides I sometimes wear them, but I knew that in the rain my socks would only get waterlogged, heavy and uncomfortable. And my shoes (like most triathlon cycling shoes) have good drainage. I grabbed my bike, got through transition, hopped onto the bike and started down to the course.
T1 time: 5:29
Average heart rate: 149
I rolled out of transition and onto the bike course and noticed that it was really coming down hard. My sunglasses instantly fogged and were covered in water drops (this despite the fact that they normally don't fog and are supposed to be hydrophobic or whatever the word is for glasses that repel water) and thus were worthless. I kept them on my nose, hoping that either (a) they would stop being fogged or (b) the rain would stop. Right...
Anyway, my plan was to take it really easy on the first loop and that's what I did. I made liberal use my small chainring and didn't worry much about how fast I was going. I think that the fact that I couldn't really see my bike computer (because of the rain) helped me avoid focusing on my speed. The rolling hills out of town seemed easy. Then I got to the long, steep descent into Keene. Under normal, dry circumstances, this is a great ride. It's not hard to get close to 50mph going down these hills. But not on this day. On this rainy, wet day my max speed was 43.1 mph. Still pretty fast, but that meant I was riding the brakes a little. I settled into a nice groove and cruised through Upper Jay and Jay, Wilmington and the Black Brook out-and-back "lollipop". I was sipping my concentrated Infinit and washing it down with water from my aerobottle. My nutrition seemed to be working fine. Around this time, I noticed that I really had to pee. I tried peeing on the bike like every good triathlete should be able to do. Unfortunately, I've never done it and never "learned" how. And race day wasn't going to be the first time for me. Bummer.
I got to the hills heading back to town. These hills are scary; they even have names: Little Cherry, Mama Bear, Papa Bear. Last year I suffered on these hills. This year, I put it into the small chainring and spun right up them. I think this is where the hill repeats and training in Harriman and Bear Mountain really paid off. On the first lap, I barely noticed the climbs. They were tough, sure, but not dreadfully so, like I remember from 2007. Now, I think because I had to pee so bad, my stomach started bothering me. I knew I would have to stop to do it and that killed me. My hope was that my stomach ache was really a bladder ache and not something more serious. On the way up the hills, I met up with Todd Colby, a fellow tri-blogger and the manager of the Jackrabbit Sports store in Brooklyn. He and I chatted for a bit, until I finally stopped to pee. It only cost me about two minutes, but it felt like forever. I love it that a volunteer comes over and holds your bike while you're in the porta-potty. I mean, what a nice touch. This race would really be nothing without those 3,000 volunteers! Fortunately, when I got back on the bike, my stomach felt better and I really flew. I knew better than to try to make up that lost time, but soon enough, without much effort, I was back with Todd and the other riders in that group. I think that the short break worked out to be a nice recovery for my legs and rear end. Then, before I knew it, we were racing up the mini-Alp d'Huez-like final climb (I think this is "Papa Bear") with spectators tight on either side screaming and cheering you up the hill into town. It's a great spot on the ride, because you're on the last big hill and really need the encouragement. Spectators jam the road allowing just a relatively thin alley for you to ride through. It feels and sounds awesome.
A quick stop at special needs to swap out bottles of Infinit and I was roaring back through town past the Oval, past my cheering parents and Elizabeth and getting ready to start the second loop. At this point, I was thinking that a negative, or even, split was a definite possibility. (Silly me.) By the way, it was still raining, sometimes really hard, sometimes just steady, but I don't think it had stopped for a single minute to this point.
First bike leg time: 2:49:43
Average heart rate: 119
Pace: 19.80 mph
I started the second bike loop and during the rollers on the way out of town, things felt different. It was still raining, so that's not what it was! The difference was I felt like I was working a little harder but going slower. I was still holding back, but didn't have the same pep in my legs. I was sticking with a little group of riders and it seemed like everyone was moving more slowly. Was this the beginning of the end for me? I cruised down in Keene and made the left turn to head up to Jay. At this point, thankfully, my legs came back and I was able to push the pace a little more. I got back into a rhythm. My nutrition still seemed to be working - I wasn't "hungry" and had good energy. Unfortunately however, I realized that I had to pee again. So, somewhere in the low 80's, I pulled off again and hit the head. Bummer. Another few minutes lost. But again, I felt refreshed and think I made up most of the time in short order. The second loop was a bit slower than the first and as I came out of the Black Brook out-and-back "lollipop" I noticed that I was seven or eight minutes behind my first loop pace. A seven or eight minute positive split was something I could definitely live with. My stomach/bladder pain wasn't getting any better, but it also wasn't getting worse. There is nothing more scary to me than my stomach shutting down during a race. It's never happened to me, but from what I hear, once that happens, it's sayonara. Heading back up the hills, I had to stop another friggin' time! Can you believe it?! If I ever race another one of these, I really really need to learn to pee on the bike! Back on the bike and up the hills, this time they felt a little harder, but still not nearly as much of a struggle as they were at this point last year. I think that the rain and the cooler temperatures were helping me. Through town and into transition. Oh, yeah, it was still raining.
Second bike leg time: 2:58:47
Average heart rate: 120
Pace: 18.79 mph
Total bike time: 5:48:30 (9 minute PR)
Total bike pace: 19.28 mph
Overall place: 312
Age group place: 61
In 2007, I remember feeling the biggest sense of relief to finally get off the bike. I don't think I could have lasted much longer. This year, even though I was tired of being on the bike, I still felt pretty good coming into T2. Before I was even off the bike, I was going through the transition in my head. I considered slipping my feet out of my shoes and leaving my shoes clipped into the pedals, but decided not to take any chances with the wet ground and likely unsteady legs. I handed my bike to a helpful volunteer and ran through transition to the changing tent. I got my shoes and socks on quickly, threw on my visor, stripped off my arm warmers, grabbed my handheld bottle of Infinit and was off. A good, quick, efficient transition.
T2 time: 2:21
Average heart rate: 121
I started the run feeling great. I exited transition at the same time as a woman and started trying to talk to her a little. She was nice enough to smile at me, but was obviously in no mood to chat. (After running side by side for a little more than a mile, she slowly edged away from me and I later found out that she totally kicked my ass by running a 3:32 or so marathon and she took second in her AG! Maybe it was her fear that I would talk throughout the marathon that drove her ahead!) I knew that I started the run at almost exactly seven hours on the day. This meant that with a four hour marathon, I would finish sub-11 hours. That became my over-riding goal.
In 2007, I came out of transition like a bat out of hell and really tore up the first couple miles. And then I blew up. I did not want to make that mistake this year, so I concentrated hard on reining it in. I noticed that Bjorn Anderson, the second place male at the time, was running just about twenty feet ahead of me. Of course, he was on his second loop of the run. I noticed that I was keeping pace. My first thought was "Wow, I'm keeping up with a pro's pace!" My second thought was, "Uh oh, that dude's blowing up." And he was. As I made the turn onto the River Road out-and-back, he started walking and I passed him! (Again, he was on his second loop, but I was still running "faster" than him!)
I ran the first few miles at a sub-8:00 pace and was feeling like I was running relatively easy. I still wanted to slow down a bit and pre-emptively save myself from disaster. In 2007, I started run-walking within the first few miles. This year, based on how I was feeling, I decided I would try to run at least the first 8-9 miles. And I did it. My handheld bottle of Infinit hooked me up nutrition-wise and I just grabbed a cup of water at each aid station on the fly. My stomach/bladder felt fine. I'm guessing that it was some combination of the fact that I was no longer hunched over on the bike putting pressure on my stomach and that my Infinit run mix doesn't have any protein. As I've said in the past, I believe in having a small amount of protein for strength and energy during a race and it's never given me any troubles before, but an Ironman makes for different circumstances! I slowed down some, but was still relatively comfortably running mid-8:00 miles. Somewhere around this point, I had my first gel of the day. That was my first "food" other than Infinit since a Clif Bar at 6AM. Oh yeah, it was still raining! The poor specators and volunteers were braving the wet conditions and being such good sports about it. I couldn't sufficiently express my gratitude, but I tried to thank them every chance I got.
While headed out towards the out-and-back turn around, the top women pros all passed going the other way. It was fun to see them. As Desiree Ficker passed by on the other side of the road, a volunteer totally busted me staring. He shouted to me, "You must be doing great if you have the time to stare!" That was good for a laugh.
During the ninth mile, you hit your first big hill. I decided, based on my ultra training from last fall, that this was a good place to walk. I didn't need to walk, but decided that the energy and muscles I'd use to run up the hill were not worth the small amount of time I'd lose by walking up it. So, I walked up that hill and then ran for a while. Somewhere in mile 10 or 11 is the next big hill - the one that leads right back into town. I walked that one as well. And from then on, I walked a little each mile. I tried to limit my walking to hills and a short walk at some aid stations. In 2007, it started that way, but quickly I was walking a lot each mile, sometimes more than I was running. I was determined to not let that happen in 2008. At the end of the first loop as I came back past the Oval, there was my "fan club", waving these signs and screaming for me.
Half marathon time: 1:49:14
I started the second loop strong. I knew that I'd run about a 1:50 half marathon, which put me in perfect range of a sub-11 hour race, even with a sizable positive split.
The beginning of each loop is mostly downhill and even holding back a little, I managed to get back into mid-8:00 pace. I don't think I walked much during these miles. Part of my "blow up" last year was due to the heat and dehydration. Those were obviously not issues this time around. The rain had kept the day, and my skin, cool. The rain wasn't bothering me at all. My shoes and entire body were wet, but I was used to it and not really thinking about it. On reflection, I think the rain was a huge asset for me during the run. I felt great (relatively speaking, that is) to about mile 16 or 17. Around that time, my right knee started bothering me a little. I noticed that my knee actually felt worse when I walked than when I ran, so it was a little extra incentive to keep running. I also decided that I needed something more than just Infinit, a gel or two and water in my stomach. At the next few aid stations, I grabbed a piece of orange or banana or watermelon and the solid food felt - and tasted - good. There were cookies and chicken broth and pretzels, but I never felt the need for any of that. It was still raining. I began to wonder if I would ever be dry again.
With around 9 miles to go, I noticed that I still had over 90 minutes to hit my sub-11 goal. Quick calculation... that's slower than a 10 minute/mile pace. No sweat! So I settled in and ran and walked (still just a little) and ticked off the miles. At one point when I was headed back toward town, I passed a walking Desiree Ficker. She had a garbage bag over her shoulders and was obviously suffering. I felt badly for her. But I felt psyched for me to pass a friggin' pro who came in second at Kona in 2006 and has run a 2:40 stand-alone marathon!
Coming back towards town, I was keeping within my 11 hour finish pace and actually gaining time each mile. As I came up near the Oval, I saw my parents and Elizabeth and threw them my hand-held bottle. I didn't need it anymore and didn't want it in my finisher's picture! I was walking a little more than I would have liked, but I think I was allowing myself to walk as long as I didn't start slipping below 11 hours. After going around the final turn-around on the lake (about 2 miles from home), I again saw Desiree a couple minutes behind me and now I knew I had to beat her. (I know it's silly, but it was important to me then.)
And then I was coming down the last hill and about to make the final turn towards the Olympic Oval. I knew that 11 hours would be easy. I was hurting, but I had to run in it. And I did. I looked behind me to make sure no one was going to get in my way and ran around the Oval, through the screaming spectators, past my cheering family and through the finishers tape!
Second half time: 2:04:24
Total marathon time: 3:53:38
Average heart rate: first 15 miles, it was consistently in the low-to-mid 140's, for the last 11 miles it was mid-to-high 130's
Official time: 10:52:47
Overall place: 248
Age group place: 51
Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was caught by a volunteer who covered me with one of those metallic blankets and starting guiding me towards the medals, shirts, hats and food. And then Elizabeth came running up - how she got through I have no idea, but it was so great to see her! I friggin' did it! I kicked the shit out of last year's race and finished feeling pretty good. And oh yeah, it was still raining!
My parents came running up next. I wanted some food and a massage. I wanted to get dry and warm. And so did they - so I sent them back to the hotel. After the long day in the rain, they deserved it as much as me. I gobbled up a piece of pizza and about a dozen chocolate chip cookies. I walked to the massage tent and had a great massage by Nicolette, one of the nicest people in the world. Nicollette made sure I was warm (I think my lips were blue) and worked on my legs, back and neck for what seemed like a really long time. (Nicolette is a massage therapist in Toronto - if you need a massage there, let me know and I'll send you her email address!)
After my massage, I walked up to the hotel and took the best hot shower of my life. We had a good, quick dinner and then at around 10:30, my parents and I went
back down to the Oval to watch the "final finishers." That was an incredible cap to an amazing day, but will be the topic of another post.
Thank you all so much for your love and support while I've been training for these meshuga races. It can't be the easiest thing to live with, be married to, be friends with, or simply put up with me while I'm focused on the Ironman. But please know that I know that I could not have possibly done this without you.
p.s. I didn't sign up for 2009. That was my plan all along. But I am a little sad about it. More on this soon...
Mile 1: 7:15 (flying, trying to rein it in)
2: 7:48 (feeling good, but still trying to slow down a bit)
4: 8:02 (I felt great here and would have loved to have kept this up)
9: 9:17 (first real hill = some walking)
10: 9:28 (from here out, I walked a little most miles)
13,14: 16:26 (mostly downhill, back out of town)
17: 9:59 (too slow)
18: 8:32 (too fast...)
20: 10:05 (not sure what happened here)
23: 9:53 (hills back into town)
25: 10:07 (tried not to walk...)
26.2: 13:01 (had to walk a little bit even in the last mile)