Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ironman Lake Placid - aka The Best Day Ever!

(Pre-race days here)

Race Day!
I slept pretty solidly from about 9:45 -1:30, and was wide awake and raring to go at 1:30, just as I expected might happen. I stayed in bed, reading and watching some TV on my iPad. I figured even if I wasn’t sleeping at least I was resting staying off my feet.  I read an article about the fire stating that there was a chance the swim would be cancelled due to the fire – like I said earlier, having watched the whole thing happen I was not about to get worked up about parts of the race I couldn’t control. They had put a boom in the lake to contain the debris and they would test the water quality at 5am. I decided that if we didn’t swim, that was ok and just meant I would need to do another Ironman. If the swim was a go, then I would look at it as we were fortunate to be swimming, and to be grateful! Finally at about 3 I couldn’t take it any longer and headed downstairs to make coffee and breakfast. I wasn’t super hungry but managed to choke down some coffee, a bagel and ½ of an avocado. (Side note: cutting that bagel was terrifying! It had gotten pretty stale overnight and I was sure I was going to slice my hand open trying to cut it! Luckily that didn’t happen :) The combo of coffee and nerves did its job pretty quickly and then I went upstairs to get ready for the day. Hair braided, SOAS kit on, HR monitor and fully charged 920xt, sunscreen and I was all set. I had been listening to the rain coming down steadily all morning but by 4:30 when we were getting ready to leave the house it seemed to finally be stopping.

Cid, Emily and I (along with some sherpas!) left the house around 4:30 and started the 1-mile walk to transition. It had stopped raining and we were pretty quiet on the way down to the oval. On the way we dropped out bags off at run/bike special needs, then headed to get body marked before going into transition. Once in transition I added all my bottles to my bike, set up the nutrition that went on the frame and double-checked every thing. I held Emily’s bike while she pumped her tires and greased her chain, then she did the same for me. A few pics and we were out of there! On our way out we ran into Kenny, our local 70.3 race director, who gave us the all clear – the swim was on!

I knew that I needed to spend some quiet time listening to music and ignoring the pre-race hubbub, so I found a spot to sit on the curb near the beach and put my headphones in. I was hoping some of the words to the song would stick well enough in my head to entertain me for the day!

I had asked my family to meet me near the tennis courts at 6, so a little before I headed there to meet up with them. I can’t say enough how awesome it was to have my whole family there. Mike and Sarah instantly started documenting everything I was doing, including trying to yank up the wetsuit and defogging my goggles with some baby shampoo. Before I knew it it was 6:15 and the race was starting at 6:30!

Swim - 1:08:19
Emily and I were pretty confident in our swim ability and wanted to start as close to the front as possible, so we took on last picture, hugged our families and quickly went to rinse out our goggles and get in line. As we were walking through the porta-potty area, I got a whiff and actually dry heaved a few times – I was terrified that I was actually going to throw up and figured that would be a terrible way to start my Ironman day! Luckily the feeling passed and Emily and I began to push our way to the front of the swim line. We wanted to start in the 1:00-1:10 group, but we got there later than most people and eventually got tired of pushing our way through the men. We ended up somewhere near the front of the 1:10-1:20 group. The new rolling start works great if everyone is honest...and that’s a big if. We had both swum a 1:06 in training and knew we were capable of that, if not faster, unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Thinking back, I’m glad we didn’t stand at the start any earlier than we did, because standing with all those people waiting for the countdown was nerve racking!!

Finally, the national anthem played and after a short wait the cannon sounded! Emily and I had been standing arm in arm waiting for the start, with a quick hug we wished each other good luck and started to move forward. We actually ended up being stopped on our way into the water and made to wait about 30 seconds, allowing us a little bit of clear water to start since we were now at the front of our wave. If people had seeded themselves correctly this would have been awesome. We must have been being super cute with all of our hand holding because someone at the start definitely snapped our picture – if only we could find those shots! Anyways, our group was eventually allowed to start and we dove in and started swimming side-by-side, stroke for stroke. But by the first buoy, all hell broke loose (gross exaggeration alert!) as we came right up on to the people who had a 30 second head start on us. It got very crowded and a little physical as we started passing people left and right (these are all the dumb people who didn’t seed themselves correctly!). That’s where we lost each other, and I had to start focusing on myself and racing my race.

I tend to get very panicky in race swims, even though I’m a very strong swimmer. I have this pit in my stomach for the whole swim, that goes away as soon as I’m done! The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful, I tried to find open water and focused on counting my strokes and swimming long and strong. I was out of the water for the first loop in about 33 min. I took a second to readjust my cap and goggles (my caps always start to slide off, anyone know any good fixes? And my goggles were a little askew from a gentle heel to the face early in the swim).

 I dove back in to start the second loop. The two loops were pretty similar, passing people constantly and just looking for open water. On the second loop I was even able to spend some time right on the cable with no one around me – that was nice! It got super crowded after I rounded the last turn buoy, but I just kept swimming until my hands were in the sand and I couldn’t swim anymore. I was up and running and all my nerves just disappeared! I found a pair of wetsuit strippers and they were just amazing – I hadn’t even gotten in fully unzipped and they each helped me with a sleeve, one of them pulled it down over my waist, I sat down and they whipped it off – so easy! I threw it over my shoulder with a quick thanks and was on my way to transition.

So excited to see my bro (and be out of the water)!
T1 - 5:30
The transition at Lake Placid is a solid ¼ mile run from the beach, but it’s packed with people cheering and I had to try really hard to slow down. It was also very wet and the road was only lined with the skimpiest rug. Falling would have been super embarrassing! Into transition and through the bags (ran by my bag but it only took an extra second to realize), grabbed my swim-to-bike bag and into the women’s change tent. A volunteer near the exit put her arm up and yelled for me to come over. She dumped out my bag, and offered to help anyway she could. She was awesome! All my nutrition went into one pocket, inhaler into the other, shoes, helmet and sunglasses went on and I was out of there. As I ran towards my bike there was a woman with a megaphone calling out numbers so the volunteers could grab your bike off the rack. I shouted my number at her and heard her call it out, but when I got to my rack there were 3 volunteers standing there with no bike! Oh well. Luckily my bike is very visible, so I quickly grabbed it and started running towards Bike Out.

Bike - 6:27:10
The bike course starts with a couple of sharp turns and a downhill so steep that they put haybales at the bottom, so I got clipped in quickly and just focused on getting through this section safely. It was somewhere after the hill that I realized my Garmin said run, not bike, and realized I had somehow clicked it a few too many times. I stopped it, hit save (couldn’t lose the swim data!) and started a new multisport event, quickly toggling through the swim and T1. I wasn’t worried about the watch for time or pace, but I had specific HR ranges Kelly wanted me to be in. Once the watch was set I could see that I had some work to do to bring the HR down into the right zone, but the bike course is also steadily uphill for the first 5 or so miles.

Anyway, after I got out of town and was heading out to the Horse Show area, I realized I already needed to pee! Good sign that I was well hydrated that morning? So less than 2 miles into the bike I just let it go! As I was peeing I saw Abby and Annie running up from River Road – sorry guys, that’s why I had such a big smile on my face! Feeling much lighter and better, I tried to get settled in for the long haul. Having seen Emily’s transition bag on the rack near mine, I knew she was somewhere behind me, but figured she would be coming up and passing me any second! Every time someone in pink passed me, I was checking if it was her! I was really hoping for a riding buddy, and knowing she climbs faster than I do I was expecting her any second.

But back to my ride. I sucked down a gel to replenish what I had used up in the swim, and focused on drinking a lot (water with my nutrition and nuun between). Before I knew it I was at the top of the Keene descent and I was flying! Garmin shows my max speed here at 49mph! Luckily there weren’t too many people around me here and those that were I passed easily. The bottom is still pretty rough (rougher than I remembered from training camp, actually), and I sat up and feathered the breaks a little to stay in control. The goal for this ride was to survive to run a marathon, not break any records. I made the turn at the bottom of the descent and started trying to eat my Larabars. Thank G-d this section is pretty desolate and there were no photographers to witness my attempt at chewing – it was pretty ugly. Speaking of desolate, this is about where I thought to myself, “This is so boring! What am I going to do with myself for the next 4ish hours?” Well, I remembered Kelly’s advice to sing to myself, so that’s what I did. Basically repeating the chorus to any song that would pop into my head.

Thankfully I was flying through this section and pretty soon I was starting the out and back section to Ausable Forks. At this point I saw some of the lead men and they were only 12 miles in front of me. Too bad that number was just going to keep growing. I reached the turnaround at mile 30 and was averaging over 20mph. Unfortunately I knew that the next 26 were pretty much straight uphill, so I was glad to have some time in the bank.  I snuck a glance at my watch at the turn around and started looking for both Emily and Cid. Emily was about 3 minutes behind and Cid about 15. It was so fun and exciting to see them!

By then I had just about finished the out and back and made the right and turn which signals the start of the climbing! I rode with a guy named Frank who had a Shiv like mine, before sending him off ahead so we wouldn’t get a blocking penalty. At the top of the hill at the aid station I grabbed a bottle of water and then heard my name screamed super loud by John (the AD at the school where I coach) and his wife. Their cheers gave me such a huge boost – I think I heard them all the way up the next hill! Thanks to some solid advice from Tim I kept it in the little chain ring through the rolling hills towards town and tried to conserve some energy for the second loop. Before I knew it I was heading up the bears where the screaming crowds made me feel like I was on the Tour! I guess there hadn’t been too many girls through at that point because I got a lot of “go girl!” cheers. The ride back into town put a gigantic smile on my face. I saw lots of friends and the crowd just past special needs included my friends Erin and Maria and what sounded like a huge group their friends – they went nuts when I went through and I just could not stop smiling. Coolest feeling ever. I hadn’t had a flat and was doing great with nutrition so I didn’t stop at Special Needs, but looking back I wish I had one more Nuun tab. Oh well. I was off on my second loop with a grin that lasted for at least the next 15 miles.

Every picture of me on the bike is from the back....I guess they didn't expect me so soon!
The second loop was pretty uneventful. I kept an eye on my heart rate and keeping the averages right where Kelly said. It started to warm up and I was starting to wish I had stopped for sunscreen on my way out of T1. I peed again (3rd or 4th time!) on the descent and briefly worried I had peed on my gels (ew!). Luckily they were dry and I just focused on fighting the headwind on the way to Jay. I rode with one of Emily’s Migonis teammates for a short while on the out and back section, who said she was not far back and doing well. It was nice to get an update! I got a big boost and some cold water to dump on my head from John and Kareen when I passed their aid station, then turned my focus to making it to the next one, where I knew my whole family would be volunteering! I shouted to my sister on my way passed them at the start of the little out and back so they would know I was coming. Successfully made it to the turnaround, got a water bottle from my sister and made sure to smile for my family! At this point I also saw Emily, and told her to hurry up and come run with me. I kept thinking about how nice it would be if we could hang together on the run, and how cool it would be if we could actually finish together.

Sarah got a 1 mile warning I was coming to get this one :)
Papa bear was just as fun the second time around, and I started to spin out my legs to get ready for the marathon. I was shocked at how consistently great I had felt throughout the whole bike, even with the increasing winds on the back half of the course, but it was really starting to get hot. Riding through town was slightly less exciting the second time, but I was about to get off the bike so I didn’t care. I got my feet out of my shoes and successfully dismounted, where I was able to just hand my bike off to a volunteer. 

T2 - 3:01
I grabbed my run bag and headed back into the changing tent. Another awesome volunteer dumped out my run bag, put my socks on my feet, helped me into my sneakers and even buckled my race belt! I can’t say enough about how awesome the volunteers were – they never even flinched about touching my nasty feet! The one thing I was really looking forward to in my T2 bag was the little bottle of mouthwash. It was so nice and refreshing to feel clean after eating all that sugary stuff on the bike. I swished it around while I got covered with sunscreen, then realized there was no good place to spit it out! My brother was waiting right by run out and said he would have gotten a great pic, except that I leaned over and spit the mouthwash out right on the side of the road. Sorry, Mike!

Run - 4:40:36
The run is also two loops, and you get to go through town 4 times, which means awesome crowd support. I probably started out running a little too fast, especially on the downhill, and I would pay for that dearly later. My plan for nutrition was to eat a shot blok at every aid station (so about every mile). The first aid station is right at the bottom of the hill on the way out of town, so I popped a gel even though it seemed really early. It turns out I’d only been running for about 6 minutes, not even close to a mile. Oh well! I decided to just stick with the aid station plan and not worry about the miles. I was running pretty well, taking ice and water and each aid station, dumping the ice down my bra and taking it out to suck on it between aid stations. The crowds on the way out of town were awesome – they cheered for every runner by name and I even met some kids from Canisius.

The one thing I remember being really conscious of for the whole run was how hot it was. All week the weather had been calling for about a 60% chance of storms, though it kept changing as to when those storms were supposed to hit. I had really been trying not to let the weather bother me, because I knew I was racing regardless and had trained in all kinds of weather. But I really wanted some rain or at least some clouds on the run. In the end, it was not to be. The run started out mostly sunny and just got sunnier and sunnier as time went on. I remember having several conversations with runners around me about how it was supposed to be raining. Oh well. That’s upstate NY for you. I had run the course before but I definitely didn’t remember how out in the open and unshaded it was!

River Road was really mental and lonely, and I tried to focus on just following the plan. Finally made it out to the turnaround and found Emily at the aid station. Seeing her along the course always made me smile! Soon enough I was heading back into town and the crowd support was amazing. Just at the top of the hill were Kris and Kurt, and Kris asked me how I was feeling – I told her I felt great and she said to me “You’re going to be an Ironman today!” Cue the tears. Shortly after I saw Matt (Emily’s coach who was so awesome in taking me in as a “free agent” for training camp back in June) and he told me to remember to pump my arms. I tried, and immediately felt that effort in my stomach! I slowed back down and made my way to special needs. I gave a thumbs up to signal that I wanted my bag (awesome idea, btw) and a fantastic volunteer actually put my dry socks on my feet for me! I took the little tube of aquafor just in case and extra salt since it was so hot and I was off. It was somewhere around mile 12-13 on Mirror Lake drive when I started to notice some really low level nausea. I had heard that the coating on the salt capsules could be hard to digest and I was taking twice as many as normal to deal with the heat and the amount I was drinking. I made a decision to buck the “nothing new on race day” adage and switch to the Base Salts they were offering on the course because I figured I knew I could digest salt ok and thought getting rid of the capsule might help. Luckily I was right!

Heading out for loop 2.
The best part of friends and family all over LP? Not having to buy the FinisherPix!
So my stomach stopped bothering me, but by the time I got to the bottom of the hill leaving town my quads were on fire! The second loop was a lot more painful than the first. I was prepared to have to walk, I guess I just thought I might make it a little further than 14 miles before having to walk more than just the aid stations! However, I had said to Kelly before the race, that if I needed to walk, I was going to walk with purpose, and I did that. Even when I was in pain, I kept my head held high and walked as fast as I could! Somewhere out on River Road I started to walk, and a woman came up behind me and said “no way you’re walking, you made me run when you passed me earlier, let’s do this together!” Girl in the black kit – thank you! I wish I knew her name. We ran together and off and on for the next several miles and she definitely kept me going while my quads got tighter and tighter. I started making promises to myself that if I just ran to x marker, I could walk, or have a cup of coke at the aid station. I had never been so happy to see a hill as I was to see the hill leading back to town. I was 2 miles from becoming an Ironman! There was a group of kids with SuperSoakers near the top of the hill and they went at it when I told them they could spray me! That felt amazing!!

On the way back out Mirror Lake drive for the last time I saw John (my AD) and his wife, plenty of friends and of course my whole family. I was hurting but I was so close. I started running and chatting with a guy who was only on his first loop, but it was nice to have company. I did feel bad when a spectator asked us if we were on our way to meet Mike Reilly and I yelled, “Yes, we are!” and then “Oops, I AM!” Thankfully he just laughed. At the turn around I knew I was less than a mile away and all the pain just went away. I tried not to rush it and just take it all in. Following the arrows to the “finish” instead of the “2nd loop” felt so good, and the crowd was going nuts. When I entered the oval, I got super emotional, I couldn’t believe I had really done it, and felt so amazing all day.

Entering the Oval
But I didn’t want to be crying in my finish line pictures, so after checking to make sure there was no one too close behind me, I tried to slow down and take it all in. The finish chute was nothing short of amazing – my whole family was in the stands to hear Mike Reilly called me an Ironman, even if he did pronounce my name wrong!
So excited for me or glad to be done spectating?

Actual finish time: 12:24:36!
Eric was there to “catch” me.

It was nice to have a friend to steer me through all the post race crap – chip return, tshirt and hat, food, etc, before he took me right to my family who was waiting at the edge of the stands. I can’t express how awesome it felt to have all my hard work over the last 6 months come together so closely according to plan.

I waited in the finisher chute for Emily to come through, and even though I got yelled at a few times it was totally worth it. The first thing she said to me was "never again!" Followed by "I fell off my bike" (read her blog), which prompted this picture:

We got some food and I went to get a massage (the first time I'd been off my feet since 6am!), thinking I had plenty of time before Cid finished, but she crushed it and I was wrong...sorry Cid!

Back at the house, showered and feeling slightly more human (except for the wicked chaffing and screaming quads) we got a ride back to town to watch the final finishers. Lake Placid has a reputation for being one of the best finish line parties and this year did not disappoint!

Watching the final finishers was so much more meaningful having been through it myself and not being able to imagine being out there for one minute longer than I had been. Enjoying it with a well deserved bowl of ice cream didn't hurt either!

It's been 10 days now and I still can't wrap my head around so many aspects of this day/week/year. I keep getting stuck at "I ran my first marathon!" since I didn't even notice those running miles ticking by and it was the only distance I didn't do in training. There are so many people for whom "Thanks" will never be enough. My family for coming from Detroit, New Jersey, NYC, Syracuse and Saratoga to support me on this crazy endeavor. Kelly for making sure that I was happy, healthy and well trained for this awesome day. Emily for signing up first and always giving me someone to swim with at 6 am or vent about the crazy training to. Steve, Eric, Annie and anyone else who accompanied me on a long ride. Matt for letting me crash his training camp. Karyn for peer pressuring me into doing this thing in the first place! Plus, everyone who was out there cheering at LP and all the volunteers. You made this day what it was for me and I wouldn't change a thing.

Now what's next?

Ironman Lake Placid - Pre-Race Days

Pre-Race Wednesday and Thursday
By race week I had gotten over my nerves and was starting to feel better after a week of being sick. I was at this point strangely calm leading up to IMLP. All the work was done and I knew I was well prepared. There was nothing left to do but race my race. Picked up Cid from the airport, grabbed some last minute goodies from the store and had lunch with Kelly. It was so nice to sit and get some last minute tips from her – although the only question I could think to ask was what does it feel like after you finish?!? For some reason that, and not the race itself, was my biggest fear.

Thursday morning came and I could not wait to pack up the car and hit the road for my favorite vacation spot in NY. Lake Placid has always been a special place but over the last few years it has definitely occupied a bigger space in my heart as we watched friends become Ironmen there and made some really special memories in a house full of like minded people. After an uneventful drive (except for nearly running into Mark and Emily and then missing them completely!) we finally arrived at the place we would call home for the next 7 days. It was no Taj Mahal (our LP house from the years prior) but the price was right and it had plenty of bathrooms!

Cid and I getting ready to hit the road
We quickly unpacked the car and walked into town to officially check-in and get our race swag! The process was pretty quick and easy, signed our lives away to the WTC, got weighed, race bands on (the guy who did mine said it mace us engaged and meant I had to race!) and picked up our gear bags. We then headed down to the merch tent to get our backpacks (nice work, WTC) where of course I had to buy the name t-shirt. Unfortunately by then it had started to rain so we grabbed some food for Cid and headed back to the house. Back at the house we unpacked some more and made a quick dinner. I went for a quick shakeout run around the lake and spent some time at the beach with Emily. It was just a small core group of us for the first night and it was so nice!

Friday morning we relaxed before heading out for a quick ride to make sure the bikes were working.  With everything in order (after having Mark double check it for me!), we headed down to check out the expo. I got to meet Mike Reilly and tell him it was all his fault that I was racing and get a quick picture with him.
With the voice of Ironman!
After that the expo quickly went downhill for me. Too much nervous energy and people selling things I didn’t want to think I needed for the race! I grabbed a bagel and headed down to the beach to sit in the shade and relax by looking out over beautiful Mirror Lake. Eventually Emily met me down there and we donned our wetsuits for a final swim. We swam stroke for stroke for a loop of the swim course. Then it was time to relax and pack all the bags! Our house had started to fill up and my parents were on their way to town, so after a dinner of lasagna, I joined my parents and sister for a walk into town to get a breather from the craziness. Friday night it was early to bed after my dad and sister played a quick game of flip cup with my friends!

Post swim with Emily
Saturday – T-1 Day!
Saturday morning I was up without an alarm a little earlier than I would have liked, but oh well. At this point Rachel and Michael had arrived so I met my mom and sisters in town for a big breakfast at the Creperie of eggs, toast and a crepe (plus the pancake that Eric had made me in the am!).

Biting the head off of the M-dot pancake! 
I quickly made my way to the Oval and dropped my bags and bike off, and was able to get a tour of transition from an awesome volunteer. After everything was set, I sat in on an athlete meeting before heading back to the house to get out of the sun and away from all the nervous energy down at the oval. I spent the rest of the day parked on the couch in the living room with my feet up reading a book!
Heading to bike check in!
Before I knew it it was time to get ready for dinner. I figured I would want to eat at home but when I realized my whole family was finally going to be together for the first time since Thanksgiving I threw pre-race superstition to the wind and decided a nice family dinner was the best way to spend the night before the race. Plus, I figured that since I’d eaten out the night before plenty of successful races that this one would be no different. We managed to get a table at the Boathouse, and had the whole bottom deck to ourselves! We felt like we were sitting right on top of the water, and had a perfect view of the swim start!

Unfortunately, while we were waiting for our food, my brother noticed a small fire starting in one of the apartments above main street across the lake. We couldn’t take out eyes off of it as the fire quickly spread to the entire top floor and started to threaten the building next door. At that point, I was no longer thinking about my race at all, and pretty much lost my appetite thinking about someone losing their home/business and all of their possessions. It was terrible, but it also served as a really good reminder to put things into perspective.

Our view of the fire from dinner
After we finished up dinner and snapped a few family pics, we met up with my aunt and cousin who had also come up to LP to volunteer and cheer. (Did I mention my family is the best?). We headed back to the house and I quickly said goodnight to everyone and was in bed by 9, with my alarm set for 3:30! 

Race Day...Continue reading here!