RR: 2013 Ironman Lake Placid

This is my race report for the Ironman Lake Placid event with my friends and co-triathletes, Dave Phillips, Jay Stanley and Erik Van de Muelebroecke.

First, IMLP is the second oldest, and perhaps the second best known, ironman event in the world. The Ironman World Championship in Kona is the only IM race that is clearly more prestigious. And it showed in the attitude and energy of Lake Placid. We racked our bikes in the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals; we ate dinner in the “Miracle on Ice” hockey stadium. But IMLP is THE BIG EVENT in Lake Placid now. “Ironman Week” hotel rates are much higher than “Peak” or “Holiday” rates, and the town of 2500 people is one big traffic jam for the week. I never saw the Starbucks without a line. So I tried to find a place to stay last October and, even then, I couldn’t find anything in Lake Placid, ending up staying about ten miles away in Wilmington.

This is my third Ironman and looked to be easier than IM Saint George, so I came in with some fairly big expectations. Plus I didn’t do a lot of really long run or bike training sessions so I was underprepared. Which, I’ve come to realize, is not a bad thing if you race to your prep level. But if you race more intensely than for which you trained well, then, you’re a dummy. I’m a dummy.

Stats

Race: Ironman Lake Placid
Swim: 1:13:37
T1: 10:15
Bike: 6:24:23
T2: 6:06
Run: 6:24:53
Total: 14:19:14

Later that week my cousing Joanne Hopkins sent a congratulations note and commented that my run was exactly 30 seconds slower than my bike time. That’s hard to do, she said.

Pre-race

I’m not making excuses for a poor race but I did deceive myself. Several events led me astray during the training months:

  • I bought a new bike, a Cervelo S5, which I REALLY like;
  • I did a PR on a half ironman in April, and really didn’t work that hard;
  • I did a number of running races and felt fairly good about my run conditioning.

But I conveniently ignored that I had down only three long bike rides and only one of those over 100 miles. And on a couple hot rides my legs started cramping at about 70 miles, which I eventually recovered from to continue riding.

So on Thursday I drove to Lake Placid, which is a LONG WAY from Virginia. I got into New York and it seemed hours until I passed Albany and then another hour or two until Lake Placid. I finally got there and checked in to my hotel. The manager asks me what my bib number is so they can track me. I say I don’t know because I haven’t gone to packet pick-up yet and he tells me it’s closed for the day. You know Ironman Week is big when the hotel manager not only knows what a bib is, what packet pick-up is but also knows the PPU schedule. And I wasn’t even in Lake Placid yet!

So I put my stuff away and drove into Lake Placid. Several things became apparent:

  1. Lake Placid has three stop lights on, of course, Main Street. It’s probably a pretty sedate town when there isn’t the huge crowds and blaring music.
  2. Mirror Lake is small. It’s great for a town of 2500 people but you put 2800 people in it at the same time and give them the objective of going around it as fast as possible TWICE, things get a little crazy – heart attack/dead crazy in a couple cases. To alleviate this the race directors decided to do a streaming start where athletes seed themselves into corrals and get released into the water in a study stream of about five or so.
  3. The bike course is a 51 mile loop mostly downhill, followed by mostly flat, followed by mostly uphill. We do it twice. Not easy.
  4. The run course is two 13 miles loops. We do it twice. Rolling hills, not easy.

So now I’m getting worried. The next morning I get up, drive to LP and queue up at the Starbucks. The employee’s have the crowd down to a science so I’m quickly out of there with my latte. I go to packet pickup and get all my stuff. Then I go down to the expo and get my IMLP Backpack – very nice. I then go back to my car, put on my wetsuit and go for a little swim. The water felt great and relieved my tension somewhat. I kept swimming to almost the end but decided to turn around early. I took a shower and then headed back home to do a little biking.

Luckily my hotel is at mile 45 of the bike course, which is the hilly part. Yea! I can see how bad it will be! So I get suited up and go out. There are A LOT of bikers on the Rte 86! The nice thing is almost all the cars were either a guest, athlete or local involved in the race, so everyone was VERY respectful of the bikers. So I’m in a groove and pretty quickly hit Lake Placid. I don’t go further because, like I said, it’s one big traffic jam. So I turn around and retrace back to the hotel. I’m flying! Much easier going in this direction! But for every downhill there must be an uphill…

The next day, Saturday, I run into Jay and Erik with families. They were cruising around the various attractions in the town. I get lunch and then rack my bike and drop off my bike and run transition bags. While doing so I see Dave Phillips and we talk for a bit. He’s more nervous about the race than I am but it’s his first and he has a more lofty goal than I do.

Then I drive back to my hotel; Lake Placid is just a little too crazy. I find a nice quiet place to eat and then sleep.

Race Day

I get up at 4:30 and the hotel has a nice breakfast for the racers. I eat some eggs and drink some coffee and then drive to the shuttle stop. I park and get in the shuttle line for the bus. It comes soon and we start to the transition area. We first descend a good bit and then start climbing to speed oval. I’m thinking it’s going to SUCK walking back with my bike and all my stuff. But it’s 5:30am and I probably won’t have to worry about that until 9pm or so. In the meantime I have to finish an Ironman.

So we get of the bus and shuffle to the T-area. First, though, I need to get in line to get marked with my race number and age. It’s a badge of honor I guess because the marker gets washed off in the water.

Then I go in, check out my bike, get my wetsuit and go over to the portapotties. Just then Erik and Jay come by and I wish them well. I do my business and then head to Mirror Lake. What a scene. Everyone is packed around the lake and the athletes have a hard time pushing through the spectators. But eventually I get to the water and swim over to the race started. As I get out I see Jay with a crowd of people staring at his open suit. I know what happened – been there. His zipper broke. I walk over as the group gives up on it and we talk a little. I told him wearing a suit with a broken zipper is not a great solution. Apparently he swam without one and did pretty well.

So the pro gun goes off and we are all standing around for something next. And then the streaming start begins. Eventually I get up to the five “gatekeepers” and pass through. I go down to the water, step in and start swimming. A little bumping but not much. I feel great and get in a rhythm. Pretty soon I’m at the turn and start back. The bumping is a little worse on the back side, don’t know why. I swim around the dock and out, run across the timing mat and then back into the lake. I’m feeling great but back off a little. The next loop is uneventful except when I get on top of “The Cable” which holds the swim buoys. If you can sight on it you never need to look up – which is what almost everyone tries to do – which, in turn, causes a lot of bumping around it. So when I see I’m on top of it I quickly swim off.

And then I’m done with the swim. I walk out of the water and a “puller” calls me over to take of my wetsuit. These guys know what they’re doing. I run to the changing tent and someone hands me my bike bag. The changing tent is dark. Really dark. So I run to the far end where the exit is and find a chair there. I quickly put on my bike stuff and a helper stuffs everything else into my bike bag. I run down to my bike which is at the way back. There are helpers fetching bikes for people but no one around my rack lines so I grab it (and notice there are still a lot of bikes!) and run to the exit. A helper is screaming to not mount until we pass under the big sign. So I run out and mount and I’m off.

It’s a little hairy coming out of town because the road is a little chopped up but I manage it and then we climb a bit. I’m passing people and feeling pretty good. I sip some gatorade (laced with Carbopro) and get in a groove. Then comes the long descent, which some people have cautioned about “The Death Wobble”. I get in a tuck and pass a good number of people. One of the uphill lanes is blocked off for bikers so I get in that. I’m feeling great and pass A LOT of people. Death-Wobble-Smeath-Wobble…

I get in the flat area and pace off a young woman. I pass Erik and say hi. Then we hit the turn around and there’s a slight rise. Erik passes me. He’s looking steady and pedaling easy. I just keep doing my race. We get to the start of the climbing part and I just gear down and keep pedaling. It’s going to be a long day. Eventually I recognize the turn-off for the second loop and hit it, get to my bike special needs and get a gel flask and race out. I’m feeling good during the rolling hills out of town before the big descent, which comes pretty quickly.

I take it down in the middle lane, switch to my handlebars for control and then BANG. THATS WHAT THEY MEAN ABOUT THE DEATH WOBBLE! It’s diagonal heat ridges in the asphalt. Your front wheel is hitting the top of the ridge and going left then over the top and going right for each ridge. FREAKING SCARY at 35-40mph. So I slam on my brakes to stabilize, figure out what to do and then move over to the third lane but I’m shaking. I get to the bottom and pedal for a bit.

At about 70 miles I start to feel that cramping thing. So I take some ecaps but it keeps getting worse. Eventually I’m pedaling and standing, then I start cramping again so I can’t pedal but just coast. I drink more and take more ecaps. A lot of people pass me – big groups. All I’m thinking is I can’t coast on the uphill portion which starts about mile 95. I better figure this out before then or… I’m not sure what. So I’m going really slowly, stopping at the next aid station to get powerade and taking six more ecaps. At around mile 90 the cramps fade but I’m still not going to risk them returning. I turn onto 86 for the long climb back to Lake Placid. I feel pretty good and pick up the pace somewhat – not being overly aggressive. Eventually I see the Lake Placid turn-off and circle around to T2.

I come in, someone takes my bike and someone else gives me my run gear. I run into the changing tent and decide not to change my socks. BIG, BIG mistake that I won’t realize for a long time. I quickly change shirts, put on my running shoes and run out.

I feel pretty good and start in at a 9 minute pace. I feel good for the first six miles but the hills are really starting to get to me. This is a tough run course and I’ve done the mostly-downhill part. I stop at each aid station and get a coke, crackers, gel, oranges taste great, and continue. At mile four or so I see Jay pass me and I yell at him. He’s in a deep conversation with someone and shouts “Hey!” At about eight miles I start to walk-run. I get back to the long climb into Lake Placid and just walk it. Once at the lake I start running again. Someone asks me if I want my run special needs bag (which has some clean, dry socks in it). I say no. BIG mistake.

I start my second loop still run-walking. I see Meg and the Stanley kids. They yell at me but I’m not feeling good. I keep it up until around mile 18 and start to walk almost entirely. Then I notice that my feet are REALLY hurting and swelling. I start to feel blisters growing and, with the wet socks and my feet sliding around, I’m sure that’s not a good thing. I starting walking with someone who wants to sign up for IMLP tomorrow! Not me, dude. At mile 20 he starts to run but I can’t. I slowly walk as the pain starts getting worse. I feel the blisters pop in my shoes and more swelling. I catch up with a young Brit from Sheffield who says he broke his toe coming out of the water and it’s swelling like crazy. I could be him I guess. He said he’s come too far and trained too long to NOT be an Ironman. I’m averaging 20+ minutes per mile now. But I’m going to finish. Eventually I walk across the finish line. I don’t feel like an Ironman.

One helper comes over and gives me my IMLP finisher medal, IMLP finisher hat and IMLP finisher tech shirt. I’ve got a death grip on them as someone else asks me if I need medical help (every athlete is asked this.) I say someone needs to look at my feet. So I get escorted to the medical tent to a podiatrist. There are a lot of people with IV’s and what look to me like splints. I’m taken to the corner where the podiatrist has set up and he pops my remaining blisters. While he’s working on me I talk with the Optometrist about getting back to my car. He said he has a special pass so he can take me, with bike, back to my car. I thank him profusely, get all my stuff and meet him around back.

While driving to the shuttle stop we talked about his race career. He said he’s 61 and mentioned that he won his age group at IM Wisconsin last year. Wow, how’d you do that, I asked? He was a collegiate long distance runner – sub 3 hour marathoner. All you have to do is get through the swim, be steady on the bike and KICK ASS on the run. Good advice….

So I start driving back to the hotel and realize that Rte 86 is closed for another three hours because, apparently, there’s STILL an Ironman race going on. I ask a state trooper how to get to Wilmington and he has me go all the way around Lake Placid. Eventually I get home, take a shower, have a beer and go to sleep.

Epilogue

I wake up the Monday morning and I’m starved. So I check out and try to find a breakfast place. But I forgot it’s “Ironman Week” and every place is packed. So I start driving home. After a little bit I stop in a small town and try to find breakfast. It’s 11:30 and lunch time – no breakfast. But I look so forlorn that one of the cooks says she’ll make me some eggs. Yea!

I get back on the road but I’m still a groggy from the prior day so I have to stop in New Jersey and nap for a couple hours. I get back on the road and hit rush hour – eventually getting home around 9:30 that night. My feet really hurt, my head hurts, my body hurts.

I take off about two weeks, finally riding on Wednesday and then again today. I haven’t swum or run yet.

IMLP is a great event but I wouldn’t do it again, even if I could get in. I said I’ll never do an IM again but now I’m re-thinking that stance. Do I really want to end my IM career on *this* race?

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