2015 Ironman Lake Placid Race Report: The Swim Bike Mom Version
Ironman Lake Placid 2015
What: A race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile marathon
When: July 26, 2015
Where: Lake Placid, New York
Who: Meredith Atwood, AG 35-39 (and 2500 other people)
Thursday, July 23, 2015: Swim Bike Legal Drafting (and not the Bike Kind)
My parents headed up from Savannah to Atlanta early Thursday morning (race day was Sunday) so the Expert and I could get on a plane to New York. We hurried out of the house, but not before I had this panic attack.
I had totally forgotten that the Expert and I were leaving our kids for almost 5 days… and I could not find our Wills. I had not left a list of bank accounts and assets and all those things that responsible parents do when leaving their kids for a period of time, where they both could die.
Well, if we go down in a fiery crash, the children are hosed because Mom and Dad didn’t bother to leave the whereabouts of life insurance policies and bank accounts for their legacy. Mom (and Lawyer) of the Year. WTF.
So I went digging through the fire box. I found our Wills from 2006. Before kids. Nice. Then I found our 2009 Wills… unsigned. Who is this lawyer? Geeeez.
Long story short, I drew up some quick and questionably enforceable Wills, and we signed… then hit the road.
[Note to self: revise Wills now.]
Our flight was delayed, and finally took off around 6:30 pm, which made for a REALLY late arrival into Lake Placid – a well-over two hour drive from the Albany Airport.
We had reservations at Wildwood at the Lake, a small motel and cottage deal, across the road from the Rite Aid and Saranac Sourdough cafe on Saranac. Rustic. Very good pricing. Done deal. The owners live on the property and were kind enough to leave a key for us with my name on the envelope at the front saying, “Check in with us in the morning.”
Awesome. Recommend for location (easy to get to grocery – 1/4 mile walk), ease of access to Rite Aid and restaurants off the main drag. Price couldn’t be beat. If you are looking for a high end hotel–this is not it–but really, was fantastic and plenty of room for organizing “ALL THE THINGS” and drying out the wetsuit on the balcony.
Friday, July 23, 2015
Rise and freaking shine. Lawdy. I fell asleep well after 1:00AM, and the alarm buzzed at 6:00 for the Mirror Lake swim. Swim Bike Mom Ambassador Team Member (and Lake Placid 2014 FINISHER), Sarah and her friend Cathie, agreed to be the babysitter for me this morning. I was so appreciative of the ride to Mirror Lake AND the coffee which Sarah came bearing.
We headed down to Mirror Lake, where I saw lots of friends who now don’t just live in the computer.
Did a quick little 750 meter swim, and then I was out. I take taper very seriously… seriously, I do. I expend like ZERO extra energy in the four days prior. Many theories to the taper–that’s mine. Rest – because I need it.
Oh, by the way… GOSH, I love my ROKA wetsuit. Really, I do. It’s absolutely fantastic, and I am thankful to ROKA for sponsoring me this season.
After the swim, we headed to Stewart’s and grabbed a coffee. Sarah gave me a tour de transition and bike out, and then we headed over to Athlete Check-in, where I was weighed (yes, really) and signed my life away in waivers. Back over to Ironman village for picking up the BAG (Ironman registration includes a race embroidered backpack—good swag!). Picked up the bike from Tri Bike Transport, and headed back to the hotel.
I took the bike for a quick shakeout, then walked over to the grocery and filled up our room fridge with all sorts of things. (Where is the Expert during all of this? Well, he had a business meeting in Albany – so he drove over there for the day. It was actually really nice, because I had lots of time to be alone and take time to breathe. Was a good plan, actually. I tend to be a little high strung during these things–so it allowed me to yell at myself instead of him.)
We ate dinner at the Dancing Bears, stopped by the store one more time for a few things, and headed back to Wildwood. It’s 8:30 now and I am sitting in the bed with my feet up and the compression socks on.
[And frankly, I am ready to sleep already.]
I took just a few minutes to put all the stickers where they belonged: helmet, transition and Special Needs bags, bike. Then placed most of my necessary things in the transition bags and special needs.
(For information on these mystery bags and Things I Learned from my “First and Last” Ironman, check out this post from 2013. )
So that was another day in Lake Placid. The weather here is FANTASTIC. After doing most of my long runs in 85-97 degree heat, I am stoked about wearing a hoodie in the early morning. FUN!
Tomorrow, I’ll probably head back to Mirror Lake for a quick swim and run, check the bike, spend too much money in the Ironman Village tent… and get off the feet and into the mental headspace of FINISHING my third iron distance race.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Well… I woke up at 8:00. WHAT? Yep, I slept 10 hours, and it was good sleep too. Thankfully.
The Expert and I made some coffee and blew a fuse in the hotel room by using the microwave at the same time as the coffee pot. We called the front desk and Mr. Weber was up in a jiffy, fixing it and showing us where the box was located. Amazing.
I sat on the floor of the hotel room, loading my T1 and T2 bags, as well as Special Needs bike and run bags. I had pre-packed everything at home, in clear bags this time. I previously used garbage bags, but I found that packing in clear bags solved a lot of the panic attacks (e.g., I could look right into the pile of bags and say, “oh yeah, I have my shoes.”) I checked all the numbers on my helmet and bike, and we loaded up and headed back down to Mirror Lake.
I was planning on doing another swim this morning, but decided against it at the last minute. Not sure why, just did. Lots of people down there. Lots of buzz. I kind of wanted to get down to bike check, bag check and do my quick run.
I zipped the Expert into his wetsuit for his swim, and took off on my little 10 minute run back to the car. I ran into SBM Ambassador Team member, Anne, and we chatted for a spell. Then to the car where I retrieved Lucy the Bike and my bike and run bags to check in.
I ran into Karen and Fiona at the bag check, and Karen gave me a quick tour of transition and where the maze was… e.g., running from the swim to the bags to the tent to the bike racks and bike out. (Whew). Took a group photo with the lovely ladies from Massachusetts, and then headed over to the Women for Tri tent.
Sat there for a few moments, stopped by the ROKA tent and said hello. Then the Expert and I grabbed a quick lunch at an Italian place down the road, Nicolas on Main.
Then we drove the bike course, taking time to stop and see the amazing sights, have a snack at the most awesome place, The ADK Cafe… in Keene, after the killer-long descent. I loved Keene – what a really fantastic town.
We turned left at the intersection and weaved along the mostly flat and slightly hilly roads. I didn’t see anything that was crazy hilly until after Jay (you turn right and then the road pitches up pretty righteously)… but then it seemed to balance out. The last 10-15 miles seemed to be a series of pretty big climbs and probably a shitton of false flats (if I can imagine race day). I learned where to eat, drink and where to slow down, use the brakes and be aware of potholes.
We had a little adventure.
Coach Brett advised against RIDING the course yesterday, and I am really glad that he decided that. I don’t think anything would have been gained from that—I was able to see everything from the car AND feel safe. The traffic and cyclists in town today and yesterday was really wild.
A few more stops and we were back at the hotel by 3:30. I packed up the rest of the things I needed for the morning, put on the race number tattoos (I bought this because I usually sweat off my race numbers by the end of the bike OR the Sharpie ruins my clothes… so interested to see how the TriTats pan out). Anyway, yes put those on, along with compression socks and proceeded to sit my butt down.
I emerged only for a pasta dinner. Then we drove down back through town, and witnessed a horrible thing… buildings downtown Lake Placid on fire. People were standing on the streets, in canoes and kayaks on the lake, just watching the fire. I don’t know what happened – we stayed until the fire department clearly had it under control, but I know that many businesses and residences were lost. Prayers going out to those involved… I hate that on a weekend that is such a joyous event for the town and the economy something like that happened.
We headed back to the hotel and started watching the last of the “Twilight Saga” movies. Yes, it’s true. I needed something to put the Expert to bed at 9:00. We planned to rise and shine bright and early… and start the long day that is Ironman.
Sunday, July 26, 2015 – Race Day
Transition opened at 4:30AM, which seemed a little silly to me, so we “slept in” until 4:00.
I washed my face, pigtailed my hair, put on the race kit and made breakfast. I had the abbreviated hotel version of the Power Breakfast: Uncle Ben’s microwaveable brown rice, raisins, almond butter and banana. Lathered on Neutrogena 100 SPF sunscreen and had the Expert slather on the hard-to-reach places… somehow this sunscreen really does work continuously through the day, and I love it.
I used TriTats for my race numbers, which I really liked. EXCEPT the directions in the package said to place Age Group number on the LEFT calf… which I thought was wrong, but I did it anyway. Then when I arrived at transition, I found everyone had their right calf marked. Whoops, and oh well. And big deal.
We were out of the hotel door by 5:00.
The Expert was playing the role of Sherpa for race day. He dropped me right in front of transition by 5:15, which gave me 45 minutes before transition closed. Off I went to check on Lucy the Bike, put on my race day nutrition on her, and pump her shiny new tires. After kissing Lucy on the aero bottle and saying “Be good to me, girl” (yes, really), I went to find the Expert.
I found him by 5:40, and off we wandered around looking for where to drop the Run and Bike Special Needs bags—not the easiest thing to find on race morning, and kind of an annoying walk down to Run SN drop—but really, I was looking for anything to distract me at this point.
Summary: Two loops of 1.2 mile swim in approximately 72 degree water in a lake. Water is reasonably clear, though not completely. Slightly congested swim. Ha. Understatement.
We walked down to Mirror Lake, and found a spot of grass to begin the wetsuit application process. Le sigh. The Expert snapped a picture of me while I was rolled into a ball pulling the wetsuit up over le thighs, which he promptly deleted and said, “You will not like that one.” I said, “Yes, best to wait until the application process is complete.”
After five or so minutes, I was in full seal suit, and we walked a little closer to the lake.
I looked at my watch. 6:08. First swim wave was heading into the water in 22 minutes. Holy guacamole.
Then the fear rushed over me. The Expert must have seen the immediate change in my face, and he said, “It’s okay, breathe.” Then the tears started in my eyeballs, and I blinked them away. Happens every time before 140.6 miles… third time, third bawl bag of tears. I guess I just don’t really process the emotions of race day until race day… until minutes before the swim start—and then it’s suddenly quite overwhelming. No difference this time.
I hugged the Expert, and headed to the swim start corral. 6:18. I bravely picked the 1:00-1:10 projected finish time group and joined them. (Be brave, be thankful!) As I stood there in the crowd of crazies, I noticed a few things: lots of green (male) swim caps, not so many pink (female) caps. Everyone in this wave also seemed really tall.
And as the National Anthem was played, the tears started rolling down my face. I prayed for one thing only: “Dear God. Please keep me safe and let me come home to my family.”
The one physically challenged athlete, a blind woman, headed into the water with her guide first. (Wow. Can’t even imagine this course with sight… just wow.) The countdown was close…
Then the race cannon went off, and the first wave was in the water… I was in the next, and we moved forward and continued to roll forward, into the water. And then, we rolled right in…
Two 1.2 mile clockwise swim loops.
Mirror Lake has an underwater cable, about 8 feet under the water, that can be used like a line in the bottom of the pool—it wraps the entire 1.2 mile loop of the lake—so if you plant yourself on it, you can swim looking down at it. Therefore, you don’t need to ever peep out of the water to sight (unless you’re just feeling like seeing what’s up outside.)
The other side (the dark side) of the underwater cable? Everyone allegedly wants a piece of that action. Translation? You’re going to be pummeled and struggling during the entire swim. I had heard this, and thought, “Yeah, no thanks. I’ll just avoid that mess.” So I placed myself a little to the left and figured I would stay out of the fray.
Mirror Lake is actually not that large (in comparison to other lakes), and the swim course was pretty congested right out of the gate. I was taking hits to the ribs and the legs right away. I love this part of the race (seriously)—so much energy, even don’t mind the pummeling—but I do try to avoid getting beat up too much.
I have found that most races start with a fury, but then after 200 or so meters, everyone sort of finds their space and stays there, with only an occasional intrusion from others. But this was not the case here. People were everywhere in this swim. After about 300 meters, I looked down and I could see the cable about twenty feet to my right. I swam a little more, and I found myself closer. (My right arm has a stronger pull so I was gravitating that way, even with sighting. Crap.)
After another 100 yards, I was nearly on the cable, and said, “Well, I’m here. Let’s play ball.”
I put myself slightly to the left of the cable, and I swam like Michael Phelps… Or his quite slower distant cousin. I managed to hold my own and didn’t get swam over very much; did my fair share of unintentional underwater boxing (as my Instagram friend, Amy, called the swim: “The underwater boxing match that was the Lake Placid swim.”)
At about ¾ of the way through the first loop, I got pinned between a school of racers, and I couldn’t seem to get behind or ahead of them. I am thinking they seeded themselves too slow—caught up to our group. They were swimming just slightly faster than me, fast enough to catch up, but not fast enough to really pull ahead of me and get away.
So I slowed my pace a little, just deciding to get behind them, and draft off their feet.
I don’t know what happened at that point, but I received a really hard foot to the right jaw.
Sort of frazzled me, and I sat up for a minute. Jaw intact, moving on. I swam about ten strokes, and I had another kick to same side, knocking my goggles askew. Okay, I’m getting the hell out of here. I tried to ease to the left and give myself some space to recover and get my heartrate down. At that point, I swam a few more minutes and out of nowhere, I had another punch or kick (not sure which) to my right goggle. SON OF A—-! That one hurt, and my head started throbbing. (It’s funny how irrationally mad this can make you. I know it wasn’t intentional—the people were just swimming. But man. I was hot. I talked myself down, and was seeing that the first loop was almost complete.)
I was coming up on the last red buoy, and time to get out of the water, run across the sand and go back into the water for loop 2.
As I emerged from the water, I took off my goggles and rubbed my head… plopped them back on, looked at my Garmin (35 minutes, pace 1:50/100m)—and dove back into the fray.
Loop two seemed a little calmer, but honestly not that much better. Still, I headed back to the cable.
Because now my head was hurting and I didn’t want to sight. I was swimming with my arms high and wide, like protective barriers for my head. The turn buoys were insane, but I kept myself right in the mix, and swam strong and with confidence, and hoping everyone left my damn head alone.
The last 800 meters was fairly uneventful, with the exception of the scuba diver who caught me by surprise. Boo!
Out of the water in 1:13— a seven minute PR from my 2013 Coeur d’Alene swim. Unexpected and happy with that.
And into T1
I was wetsuit stripped and hauled butt into Transition. Quite a little jaunt from the lake to T1, but the ground was carpeted and it was fine. I moved forward with a purpose.
I was looking around for the Expert, and didn’t see or hear him on the long swim exit. I figured I had missed him, and resigned myself to the fact that maybe I’d catch him on bike out.
Just as I entered T1, I heard, “Mere! HEY!!!!” I looked over, and I swear to you, it looked like the Expert had jumped up on the T1 fence and was hanging on like a spider monkey. “Hey!” I said laughing, “1:13!” and I kept going.
Grabbed my T1 bag and into the women’s changing tent. I moved to a far chair and dumped out the contents of my bag onto the ground. I changed my tri shorts into cycling shorts and dumped a ton of Aquaphor on the Queen. A lovely volunteer came to assist, and all she did was put things back into my transition bag—which was awesome.
I like to do my own thing in transition and sometimes overly helpful volunteers mess up my brain and I lose track of where I am. [Please know that it’s not a knock on the volunteers—these LP volunteers were fantastic—it’s just how I am. I have an idea of what I need at the moment and when I am thinking Okay, I need socks and someone is shouting, “Do you need your helmet?” I lose track and forget where I am. It’s more of me being kind of dumb than anything.] Anyway, so this volunteer was fantastic and packed up my stuff as I threw it down, and I was out of transition in 8:30—which included the run from the swim.
[A note on the volunteers… holy cow, what amazing volunteers this race. I can’t believe how wonderful everyone was. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.]
As I was running to get my bike, I realized that my chamois shorts were way crooked, so I was running and digging at my shorts in the crotch. Such a lady. But what can you do when you put on your pants crooked?
So a pretty quick T1, and I pleased with that. The day was off to a decent start, with the exception of the grinding, dull ache in my head that was growing…
Summary: Two loops of 56 miles of lots of climbing. Not for the faint of heart or the weak of quads.
SBM Team Member, Sarah, had taken me on a tour of the course on Friday. One thing she pointed out was the crazy exit on “Bike Out”—a curvy “S” after the mount line. I was thankful for this, because instead of trying to mount the bike and navigate two sharp turns, I walked my bike down the first little decline, and mounted there. It saved me the worry of a low-speed tipover at that moment. One Appreciated.
Before I knew it, the bike was here. I didn’t think it would be an overly warm day, so I hadn’t really over-hydrated or salted much. I packed three bottles of 400 calories of Tailwind for the first loop (56 miles = 1200 calories), and figured that would suffice.
Right out of the gate, the bike course starts to climb. I was getting obliterated by the “ON YOUR LEFT” cyclists—the dudes that have slower-than-me swims, but are absolutely murderous on the bike and run. I felt like I was at my first ever triathlon, the number of bikes that were passing me, and at the speeds they were. But it was my race, and I had to race my pace—which included going easy on the first loop, so I had energy for a second loop AND a marathon.
About five miles into the bike, I really began to notice my head hurting. After the steady climbing started, the pounding was almost unbearable. I did not want to take any anti-inflammatories on the course, but I carried them, just in case. I asked myself the question, “How bad do you need this Aleve?” And then I reached into my bike bag, and swallowed two. Boom boom boom went my head.
I think the first part of the course—the five miles of climbing heading out of Lake Placid before the Keene descent—is probably the first most underestimated part of the ride. The second most underestimated part is at the end of the loop–before the Three Bears–there is an 8 or so mile stretch that is just brutally and falsely flat coupled with headwinds. Ouch. (Anyway, more on that later).
So yes, the stretch of climbing out of town, while not steep, was an ass-kicker. Which is well rewarded by the crazy 5 mile descent into the town of Keene.
Everyone talks crazy about this descent. Rightly so. And I think I might have been really petrified of it if I hadn’t ridden in North Georgia and the Gaps with Coach Brett (in the rain). The descent from Woody Gap in Georgia is more treacherous than the descent into Keene—but both are gnarly. Both are not for the faint of cycling heart. So for my Southern peeps wanting to do Lake Placid, go ride Woody Gap in preparation, and the Keene descent will feel better on race day. Also, Coach Brett recommended that I drive the Placid bike course the day before race day—not ride parts of it. And I am glad for this as well. I didn’t unnecessarily waste energy riding—but was able to see the course and it was clear in my mind for race day. ]
So the descent into Keene. Yes. It was fast and furious and delivered on its promise. I heeded the advice of those before me (Sarah, Coach Brett, Moira) and: feathered the brakes, held my line, stayed focused, and rode smart—hit about 33 MPH on loop one, and 43 MPH (more confident) on loop two. Turned out to be quite fun.
As I turned left heading into Jay, I was averaging a lovely 17.7MPH, even with the first part of the climbs. I wanted to maintain 15 MPH on the course, so this was some speed in the bank.
The next 20 miles or so was relatively flat. A good time to enjoy the scenery, eat and hydrate. I was sub-par on the eating and hydrating part, because my head hurt and it was making me queasy. I should have sucked down an extra Huma Gel or two, and grabbed some extra water at the aid station. The day was getting warmer, but I wasn’t really noticing it. All I could think about was my head.
After the turnaround, I headed out another 8 or so miles before turning a hard right.
Then came the next portion of climbs. (Thirty miles worth, really).
Mental note from the car ride the day before: Near the blue house and at the hard right, it’s time to seriously climb. (Be in the low gear. Seriously).
I saw the riders beginning to turn and I saw the blue house… click click click into the gear, turn right, and time to go up up up.
About halfway though the first climb, the vision in my right eye sort of went lights out on me. I got fuzzy in the eyes, and then it just sort of went away. Well, that is alarming. I pedaled onward. At the next aid station, I’ll ask for medical.
The next aid station was on a hill, so I didn’t want to stop on a hill. [Really rational thinking here, I know.] SO I promised myself I would stop at the next aid station. We turned right and did a short 2 mile out and back, and I stopped at that aid station. Someone was throwing up in the bushes, and they were phoning medical to pick them up. Do I really want to be picked up? I can sort of see out of this eye. I chugged some water and got back on the bike. I will stop after Loop One.
Everyone talks about “the Three Bears” on the course… a series of three climbs that starts with Mama Bear, then rolls into Baby Bear, and finishes with Papa Bear—the biggest climb. None of these are that steep or terribly tragic, but they were noticeable. Even more noticeable were the preceding miles, though. I was glad to see Mama and Papa Bear after the miles of headwinds and steady, relentless climbing grade. At least it was a change of scenery. Wow.
I tried to enjoy the sights on the tough remaining miles of Loop One, but my right eye was still sort of “out”—so I had to turn my head really far to see the streams and mountains to the right…so I just tried to enjoy the blue sky and mountains ahead.
Lots of the spectators gather on Mama and Papa Bear and cheer you up Papa Bear like you’re on the Tour de France. [I pretended that I was, and felt awesome!]
Headed into bike special needs and saw the Expert, Precious and Julie. Sarah met me with my bag, along with Cathie, and I was out of Special Needs in a jiffy, and back out for the second loop. I forgot about my head pounding in those moments, and it appeared that my vision had returned… so I was right back on the course, with Loop One of about 3:45.
I was behind schedule. That’s okay, you wanted to ride the first loop slower. Time to pick it up.
When I started the second round of climbing, the head would pound with every pedal stroke. However, I could see out of my right eye again, so I wasn’t as concerned. I didn’t understand why two Aleve wasn’t touching the pain, though.
After those five miles of climbing it became very apparent to me that my second loop was not going to be faster afterall. I watched my average pace slowly drop, and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it. So I pushed onward and gritted my teeth through the massive headache, which was being greatly exacerbated by the rising heat. I spun up up up and flew down the descents, and tried to remain positive.
At the swim start, Mike Reilly said, “You cannot control a lot of things today, but you can control one thing—yourself.” So I kept controlling myself. But ignoring the part of me I couldn’t control—the pounding head.
I felt okay, overall, despite the queasy feeling and the head. I managed to suck down all my calories and drink some water at the aid stations. When I passed the Mile 90 sign, I was struggling mentally, knowing the last 20 miles were the most furious.
At this point, I continuously talked to myself. Simple is clean, clean is fast (An Andy Potts quote from my favorite LifeProof video… and all the Expert repeated to me at the swim start). You are stronger than you know. Tomorrow you can have ice cream.
But eventually the words turned dark.
And I pulled over and hopped off the bike once when I realized I was climbing and repeating the “F” word to the rhythm of my pedal strokes.
You gotta stop that sh*t, Mere. So I got off the bike until the F-bomb cursing stopped (about 3 minutes), and then pedaled onward.
One guy rolled by me right at the Mile 100 sign. He smiled and shouted, “Hey we’re almost there! In 12 miles we can FINALLY run!”
(And he was serious.)
He rode off quickly, and I almost chased him down and pushed him off the mountain. (I jest.)
Anyway… I was hopeful about the run, but not “excited” like that crazy human.
I WAS thrilled to see the Three Bears and I victoriously pulled my butt out of the saddle on the last climb back into town. Glad to get off the bike.
14.22 MPH average on the entire bike course. I was strangely disappointed because I had set an arbitrary goal of 15 MPH, despite never having ridden the Placid course. So I set myself up for idiocy from the get-go. It was actually a fantastic pace for the climbing, afterall. My mind wandered a tad, but I had all the time in the world for the marathon, so that was great.
It was a tough ride, and honestly, that’s not a bad pace considering.
Strava says my suffer score on the bike was “103” and “Tough.” Ya think?
At this point, I thought my head would explode. The pain was the most intense headache I have ever had. And guess what? I had a marathon left! Freaking party.
Then the haunting words in my head: “You cannot control a lot of things today, but you can control one thing—yourself.”
You gotta get your head back in the game, Mere.
I saw my friend and TriEqual founding member, Kelly, in the women’s change. She came right over to me as I dumped out my bag.
I told her, “I am done. I quit.”
“The %&$ you are,” she said.
“Yes, yes I am.”
“The %&$ you are,” she repeated.
I stared at her. This was not going to go my way.
I changed into my tri shorts. I fumbled with my race belt. I muttered. I cursed. I didn’t understand why my head hurt so damn bad.
At that point, I looked at my feet. You have got to be effing kidding me. The pads of both of my feet, my big toes, and the last three toes on each foot were stark white.
Blisters. I had full-foot blisters before I even started the run??? Holy guacamole.
I changed my socks, lubed up my feet and hoped for the best. (Note to self: never these socks again. Never skip drying feet and body thoroughly on iron distance. Never never never. Also climbing will cause much more friction. Must figure feet out.)
Kelly helped me fill up my bottles, gave me a “get your act together now, woman” pep talked—and she shoved me out into the sun and the heat of the day…and on to the run. [Thank you, Kelly! ]
Summary: Two loops of reasonably hilly 13.1 miles. Also, not for the faint of heart or the weak of quads.
The Expert was waiting for me at the exit to transition. He was smiling. I was all business.
“Text Coach Brett and tell him that I have had a headache since the second loop of the swim. I got knocked in the head a few times. Oh, and that I haven’t peed once. And my feet are raw. Ask him what I need to do… more water? More salt? More Aleve?” [Though I had a good idea myself, I wanted my Coach to tell me things.]
Then I said something that is absolutely laughable in hindsight: “I’ll be back in 13 miles.” He looked at me.
I said, “I don’t feel well. But I’m going. I love you.”
I don’t know if he even said anything to me (I’m sure he did), but as I went out and started running, I looked back and he had his nose in his phone. I knew he was texting Brett.
I began to run, and I felt good. My legs and body were like, “Yeah! Running!” That felt fantastic. My head did not. And my feet… oh, the humanity. The skin on the bottoms of both feet was moving with every step. My skin was literally sloshing. &$%^.
The run out of town was filled with people cheering and I loved it! My pace was fabulous at an 11:30-12:00 mile. I felt amazing to be running. MENTALLY, I felt amazing.
Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. Twenty-six point two miles. I repeated with every step.
By the time I reached the Mile 2 aid station, my head was a new level of torture, and my vision started wavering again. My pace was fine, but I really didn’t feel well. The head. The feet. Not well. At all. I wrapped my mini-sport towel in ice. I chugged three cups of Gatorade, took a Base Salt from the next tent, chugged an entire bottle of their water, and ate a cookie.
At that point, in my heart, even though I had more than seven hours to make the cutoff, I knew the race was going to go one of two ways: DNF or DNF.
DNF #1: “Did Not Finish” due to quitting.
DNF #2: “Did Not F-Up” – e.g., I kept moving and didn’t give up, despite all the craptastic elements swirling around me.
The head was bad, but honestly, my feet were in far more terrible shape. I knew that I was going to tear those blisters slap open if I kept pounding them on the run.
I don’t want to walk. I repeated to myself. Another voice said, “If you don’t walk, you are going to risk tearing your feet open. Then you’ll definitely be done.”
I slowed my pace, released the running muscles… and I began to walk.
Immediately, that eased the pain in the feet and the “skin slosh” significantly. I looked at my Garmin, and said to myself (in a sentence eerily similar to my race in Coeur d’Alene), “You must maintain a 16:00 minute mile pace and then you can walk this race right in to Mike Reilly.”
Got it. I got this. No big deal.
But to be very honest, at that point my day went very dark. Not because my head hurt (hell, it did!), not because my feet hurt (yep), but because my reality became so abundantly clear. I was walking for the next 24.2 miles. And walking a marathon takes a very, very long time. And it wasn’t part of my plan.
Frankly, I was mad. Because I had a run inside of me. I had a solid run inside of my head and heart (and legs). But I had a solid death march walk to bring to the table due to my feet.
And it pissed me off. And there was nothing I could do about it if I wanted to finish.
So at that point, around Mile 3.5, I had a rough talk with myself. It went something like this:
“Can you run without tearing your feet?”
“Are you doing your very best right now, in light of this information?”
“Can you walk 22 more miles?”
Answer: Yes. (But I don’t effing want to.)
“I know you don’t want to. But can you?”
Answer: Yes, but I don’t effing want to.
“Yes, we have established you don’t want to. Irrelevant. What do you need to ensure that you are ready to walk the next 22 miles?”
“No, drug addiction is not an option. Try again.”
Answer: I need to hydrate the living hell out of myself, and eat the party buffet that is spread before me at the aid stations to get me through the next seven hours. Oh, and mind tricks and a song.
“Exactly. Your mind tricks are counting the people passing you and figuring out what city they have come from. And your fight song is literally, ‘Fight Song.’ How is that?”
Answer: No, I can’t sing ‘Fight Song’ for the next 22 miles. Pick another. Oh, that dude right there is totally from Austin.
“How about ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ by Billy Joel?”
Answer: You have to be kidding me…
“Okay. Go with Rhianna ‘Diamonds’ and Maroon 5, ‘Maps.”
Answer: It’s a start…. Okay, I’m done talking for now.
“Just keep moving forward.”
Answer: Don’t say that to me.
And that was how my hilly little walking marathon got started. I watched my Garmin, and I played mind games. All the way back to town. I smiled a lot. I encouraged the runners. I encouraged the walkers. I high-fived every kid that would play along.
Around Mile 9, Kelly appeared with her BF, Ryan, and my spirits lifted a little higher. Then the Expert appeared, and I was glad to see him. I was doing okay at that point, and trying not to think of the long miles remaining.
Heading back into town, I heard my name (or Swim Bike Mom!) shouted repeatedly, giving me a massive boost.
Loved seeing everyone and appreciated the encouraging “you look great” comments to my power walking. At this point, ugh, I wanted to run so badly—intensely frustrating. But one thing I knew? I had to run my own race. And at that point, my race was a walking marathon to save those feet for the finish.
I couldn’t get caught up in the hype and energy and start pounding the feet.
I walked, I smiled, and I smiled some more. I was brave. I was thankful.
I knew I would see the Expert heading down Subway Hill around Mile 13.5.
[Sidebar… what sherpas do when you are out racing 140.6 miles.]
Interestingly the Miles from 10 to 13.5 turned a little rough(er) for me.
At run special needs, I didn’t see anything in my bag that I needed (or wanted). Who packed this sh*t!? Oh, I did. What a dumbass.
I balled up an extra pair of socks, and stuffed them in my back pocket. I took my headlight and clipped it to my visor, since it was bloody apparent I was going to be needing it afterall.
I did not change socks at that point, because I knew if I laid eyes on my feet, it would wig me out. I didn’t want to see the damage. So I kept going in the socks.
At this point, I still had not gone to the bathroom–the entire race. I was taking water and Gatorade (and fruit or cookie or pretzel) at each aid station, but nothing. I was sweating like a crazy person, and my heartrate remained very elevated.
But guess what? Ah-ha!!! Finally, the headache was finally gone! WOW! I felt like a million bucks.
But then I didn’t.
I saw the Expert heading back out on Loop 2. And I told him, “I want to quit.”
He said, “No.”
I said, “I do. But I am going to keep going. And I may quit in a little bit.”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Whatever.”
“The next time I will see you will be at the Finish, you know? You have 5 hours,” he said.
“I do not have five hours.”
“Yes you do.”
I snapped my Garmin watch face at him, and said, “This is my race time. I have exactly 4 hours and ten minutes.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, you have four hours and ten minutes to walk 13 miles. Get walking.”
“Fine.” I said. “I love you.”
At that point, I really did want to quit. I didn’t want to walk for four hours and ten more minutes. I was tired and my feet hurt and I wanted to eat some real food. The intense pressure in my head was gone, but it almost left a weird void of indifference—like I really didn’t care about the finish at all.
SO I had another conversation with myself. And it went like this:
“You can quit if you can come up with a really good reason you can write on your blog.”
Answer: I have extreme blisters.
“You are going to tell everyone that you quit because of blisters?”
Answer: I can show them pictures.
“Blisters? I quit Lake Placid because my feet hurt? Waaaaaa…..”
Answer: Shut up.
“You need another reason. And guess what? You. Don’t. Have. Another. Valid. Reason.”
Answer: I am hurting. I am really hurting.
“Guess what, sissy? So is everyone else.”
Answer: I hate you.
“Just keep moving forward.”
Answer: I hate you.
So on I went. Step by blistery step. I kept going and watching as people ran by me—for hours and hours.
The sun began to go down, and relief from the heat happened, and my heartrate had finally settled down and I was finally balanced and hydrated. I felt really good, actually, with the exception of the feet, around Mile 18.
Eight miles to go. Three hours to do it. You got this.
Around this time, my pace dropped significantly. I was trying to keep up the 15:00 overall average I had maintained at that point, but it was slowing.
I’ve noticed in most races, that I usually find a walking buddy or friends for times when it’s dark on the course. I had very little real interaction with other racers this time. I don’t know why. I saw my friends, Don and Cristina, Cheryl, and a few others, but they were trucking—and I was not, so the interactions were so brief.
In Coeur d’Alene and Beach to Battleship, I walked with a some folks for several miles. Spent time with others for long stretches. But this time, I was really alone out there.
And with six miles left, I started sobbing.
I felt so alone. I felt the weight of all and any of my life’s mistakes and regrets pound me in the skull and it was overwhelming. I had been in my own head, alone and suffering, for fifteen hours, and I was really, really weary.
I missed my children. Bad. I wanted nothing more in that moment to have James and Stella and kiss their faces. I moved forward, thinking, “I have to make them proud.”
I still had time, but it was ticking. I was getting nervous and tired doing the math, thinking, “Am I really going to make this? Am I going to go 26.2 miles and actually, miss this cutoff?”
I didn’t know. And at Mile 21, my Garmin screamed at me: LOW BATTERY.
My pace calculator and accountability partner (and apparently, my imaginary friend in the theme of “Wilson” from Tom Hank’s movie, Castaway) was about to leave!! I made a mental note of the pace I was walking and ingrained it in my head to go this fast, and I waited as the Garmin slowly died on me.
Mile 23. With a 5k remaining, a Swim Bike Mom friend (I can’t recall her name… so sorry) came up to me, and told me that I was inspiring…at that point, I started bawling and telling her that I wasn’t going to make it. She told me I was, and I said, “Please do the math for me. I can’t do the math.”
She did the math. And I would make it. I just had to walk. And go. And not stop.
“I am sorry I am crying,” I said.
“I’ll never tell,” she said.
It was emotional.
Then a ghost appeared at Mile 24, and said, “Pick your head up. You’re almost there. Go.”
SBM Team Member Anne also appeared in her crazy outfit and prodded me from the sidewalk. I climbed up Subway Hill and back into town, hearing Mike Reilly welcoming in all the Ironmen.
Two Miles to go.
I saw the Expert, Precious and Julie again—they were cheering, I burst into tears again. “You can do it! You’re almost there.”
I didn’t know how much time I had. The Garmin had fizzled, and I knew I didn’t have much. Team member, Sarah, then walked on the sidewalk with Anne, screaming at me and making me laugh, then cry.
At that point, I literally screamed out in pain, in front of Anne and Sarah. My left foot had ripped open.
There it is! I started crying again. (Ridiculous amounts of crying this race, I know.) But I was so relieved that I had walked and waited on that… and it held out until the bitter end. But damn, it was excruciating.
I limped down all the way to the turn around. A volunteer said, “Alright sister. You have one mile.”
I said, “One mile? Are you sure?”
He said, “Absolutely.”
I said, “I can run one mile.”
And I started running. The pain in the feet brought stars to my eyes, and with a half mile to go, my other foot ripped open underneath the toes. And I didn’t care. Anne and Sarah, in flip flops, shouted at me, “Go get the finish!”
I couldn’t wait to get off my feet. I ran. I think I couldn’t have been going any faster than a 13:00 mile. But I could hear Mike. I could see the lights.
I realized in that moment that I had run two miles–and then walked 24.2 miles without stopping. Without bending over once to stretch. Without stopping at a porta-potty. Without standing still at an aid station. I had literally moved forward the entire time.
And there it was… the little arrows and an Ironman “to the finish” sign.
I looped right, and I was in the long Olympic oval heading towards the finish.
I burst into tears (a theme here, a theme), and I looped around, and headed left. I could see Mike Reilly, and I ran right up to him.
He took my hands in celebration, and I planted a smooch right on his cheek.
How does it compare to Coeur d’ Alene?
I have already received tons of messages asking this question. I think somebody much smarter and more accustomed to the use of pie charts and graphs would be better to analyze. But I’ll give it a shot.
Both are scenic and fantastic. The towns are wonderful and the volunteers amazing. [THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all the volunteers. I cannot say it enough.]
However, I will throw my hat into the ring and say that I think Lake Placid is a tougher course. The swims are very comparable, but I think the Placid swim is technically “easier” because of the cable and the lack of frigid water; however, the lake is smaller so the underwater boxing match was rougher than CDA. I definitely like the CDA swim more for that matter.
CDA and Placid are both bike course monsters—CDA doesn’t really have anything super steep, whereas Placid throws in the steeper wrenches at the end of both loops. Both nasty and tough for their own reasons.
The Placid run course is far hillier, so it is tougher for that reason.
Placid wins for an epic finish line. CDA’s finish is fantastic, but the Olympic oval was breathtaking.
Three days later, I still can’t walk well on the feet… but my body feels great. A testament to the shape I was in for the race, but wasn’t fully able to utilize on the run course. Wait a minute… How wrong I am!!
I am so grateful for this race. I am not going to qualify anything.
I am GRATEFUL for a THIRD 140.6 finish. Yes!
How crazy is that? From someone who couldn’t run a mile five years ago… to this. It’s crazy land when I think about it.
So I should not discredit a second of the hard work and qualify “if only this, then that…” It would be very easy to do… because on the face of the race finish times from CDA in 2013 to Placid this year—there’s not improvement. But that’s such garbage.
In truth, I had an amazing day, full of emotion and perseverance. Each second was calculated and none wasted. Had I not been in the shape and lost the weight I had, there is NO WAY I would have finished the race. Had I not moved forward each moment with purpose, I would have missed the cutoff.
Even through a long, emotional death march, I would have never made it off the bike and into the run had I not prepared the way I had. So for that, I am thankful.
I am THANKFUL for the finish. I earned every last step and mile of that course.
I am ever so thankful to Coach Brett Daniels with PTS Sports. Thank you.
For my family and the Expert. Wow… there are really no words. Thank you for putting up with me and supporting me through all of these Ironman dreams… I know it’s not easy. And I thank you.
For the entire SBM Army, for being behind me and telling me to move forward all day!
Today, I remain in awe of the sport. I remain in awe of the caliber of athletes on that course—amazing athletes everywhere. Amazing heart.
I am ready to heal these feet, and get back in the saddle in time for Ironman Louisville, in a mere 72 days.
Lake Placid was a warm-up. I will live to see another race and learn more with each one. In my mind, I’m just getting started. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Love to you all.
PS – I did go to Medical for an hour after the race to have everything checked. My fear was that I had suffered a concussion. They monitored me, wrapped up my feeties, and graciously wheeled me to the car. I appeared to check out…
Thankful for those volunteers as well. <3