August 29, 2010

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 - Run

"Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal, this is it, your life. Face your fears and live your dreams."

- John Blais

Reflection

Eleven months ago I was in the midst of completing my first Ironman. In an effort to rediscover myself and chart a new course in life, I had decided to take on that challenge and spent nine months making it a top priority. It represented everything in life I feared. Everything I thought I couldn't do. But hope was shattered when I tore my plantar fascia just days before the race. After a spiral of sadness, anger and regret, I picked myself up and found myself toeing the line in Madison with 17 hours of the unknown ahead of me. I ended up having two races: the first was the swim and bike; the second was the marathon. I knew I'd get to do the first race, but I wasn't sure until I walked into T2 if I'd be doing the second race. As I stepped onto the marathon course I was overjoyed. I would walk for over seven hours to reach the finish line in what was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

A Second Chance

My first few steps on the run in Lake Placid were a dream. The early miles flew by and my pace was strong - 8:55, 9:36, 9:26, 9:55 - even better than I was aiming for. I was also enjoying it, drawing energy from the crowd and the other athletes. I was so swept up in the moment that I forgot my strategy of walking through aid stations and blew right through the first. I slowed my pace because I was sure I couldn't sustain 9:30s for the long haul and I wanted to set myself up for a good afternoon.

This course is such a different experience from Wisconsin. Wisconsin winds through downtown Madison and the University of Wisconsin campus so it's lined with spectators much like a stand alone marathon. Lake Placid leads you out of town where the spectators are few, but the scenery is magical. You have to focus on the beauty and the gift of being able to race in such a place, a place where Olympians have competed twice. You have to be comfortable in your head because for long stretches you will be overwhelmed by your thoughts. You have to embrace the sound of your feet and the feet of others moving across the ground. I identified mini milestones to keep me motivated: Just a few miles to the River Road turnaround; just another couple miles to the electronic board with a message from Mark; another two miles to town. You play this game for hours and try not to focus on the pain.

One of the most interesting things about Lake Placid was the out-and-back nature of the course. You have a chance to observe your competitors in various states of the race. Some are leaps and bounds ahead and some are almost a loop behind, but it's almost impossible to tell which is which. You overhear snippets of conversations, inspiring comments from athlete to athlete and witness an array of emotions that the human face just can't hide in such a raw, exposed moment. People often talk about the "pain cave" in Ironman, a time where you are in such deep, overwhelming pain that you can't focus on anything else. I saw a lot of this and was soon there myself. A regular marathon starts to hurt anywhere from 18-21 miles in, leaving you with a handful of miles to suffer through. An Ironman marathon hurts as early as five miles in. For me it was around eight, and I knew I'd have to dig deeply to power through.

Passing through town around miles 10-13 was a big boost. If only it weren't for the huge, sadistic, hideous, torturous hill. I ran up the first time, though walkers were keeping pace right along side me. I wasn't trying to garner special attention from the crowd or prove a point, I was simply afraid to slow momentum and not be able to get going again. It was the only time I would "jog" up that hill. I walked the second time around. At the top, I saw Mark and got some much needed support. You can get a double-bonus from friends and family by seeing them on the way into town and then again on the way out, so after heading up yet another hill (good ol' Mirror Lake Drive) and a quick stop at Special Needs, I knew I'd see him one more time before the final stretch.

But let's pause at Special Needs. I approached this marathon with a liquid-only nutrition plan. I have a history of side stitches so solid nutrition of any sort - or too much liquid for that matter - do not go over well on a run. So a few sips of sports drink, cola and broth at each aid station does the trick. My energy stays consistent and I stay relatively hydrated. But I developed a sloshy stomach around eight or nine miles in and had to skip the fluids in lieu of some pretzels and nibbled on a cookie about a mile or two later. I had packed a special treat in Special Needs... after all, that's what you're supposed to do, right? My treat was a tiny pecan pie, a perfect little tart of goodness that I thought would be a wonderful change mid-race. WRONG. It tasted like heaven, but sat in my stomach like hell. I cramped for at least three miles after consuming it, not exactly what I needed at this difficult point in the race. Live and learn.

I saw Mark again on my way out of town and he said by his estimation, I'd be done around 8:30. I smiled and agreed, but had a gnawing feeling in my stomach that I'd fall apart in the final 10 miles and finish closer to 9pm, still a big accomplishment for me. But I pushed on and every time I felt like stopping I looked at my watch, did a little math, and realized an 8:30 finish wasn't unrealistic and that kept me going. I saw the usual Ironman wreckage - people passed out, people throwing up, people crying, people trying to achieve this dream we all shared. It's hard to push through the pain and the overwhelming urge to stop. At times, everything in your body and mind tells you to quit.

The Final Stretch

I can't begin to describe the flood of emotions that overtook me in the final few miles. After reaching Main Street the second time, I had the brutal uphill to battle, but I was truly in the home stretch. I could hear Mike Reilly announcing name after name and just wanted to hear mine. Reaching the turnaround on Mirror Lake Drive felt like an eternity, but once I rounded the corner I knew it was finally downhill and only a matter of moments. Everyone is emotional at some point during an Ironman, even if you're not the sentimental type. The pain alone screws with your head and sends you on a rollercoaster of feelings you may not normally feel. But I'm emotional so it's only amplified during an experience like this. Plus I had the ghosts of last year to battle so the final steps on Mirror Lake Drive before entering the Olympic Oval were some of the most overwhelming for me that day. The crowd was so positive and I knew I'd be crossing the line in a matter of minutes. I didn't want to rush it but I also wanted to get there. I picked up the pace tremendously and was running faster than I thought possible on my battered legs. I covered my face as I was trapped between tears and elation and decided I didn't want to miss a moment. I worked the crowd the entire stretch through the oval, high fiving anyone who would touch my disgusting hands and going back and forth from side to side, celebrating not just that moment, but the moments I gathered over the last year. It was the race I dreamed of in 2009, the race I should have had. I just had to wait longer for it.

Just like in Wisconsin I don't really remember the finish chute. It's all just a blur. All I know is that once again, crossing that line made it all worthwhile. The early mornings, the missed social plans, the several cups of coffee needed to get me through each day, the special diet, compression tights and tons of Advil. It all plays a part in building the character you become over the course of completing an Ironman. And as much as I sometimes complain about it, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Time - 4:36:38

Post-Race

I found Mark immediately after finishing and discovered he had already claimed my bike and gear bags and taken them back to the hotel. What an incredible Ironman supporter! I inhaled a small sandwich and a slice of pizza and limped to the exit to meet up with him. We went immediately to the Lake Placid Brewery and grabbed a celebratory beer and a nice seat outside. I texted my friends Laura and Chris, they were sitting at the finish hoping to get a video of me but I'd been done for 30 minutes! They promptly joined us for some post-race celebration. It struck me how nice it was to be sitting at a bar, eating a burger and enjoying friends after the day I'd had. I always said I just wanted to finish early enough to actually eat somewhere... and this time I did.

I was too tired to go back to the finish. It was chilly even with two jackets on and I was still dressed in my race clothes. So we paused on the hill overlooking the Oval and watched a handful of late finishers. I was one of them last year and likely will be again at another race. I felt I had come full circle on this journey and was really pleased with the destination.

August 23, 2010

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 - Bike

"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

- John F. Kennedy

As I exited the change tent there was a light rain falling. The grass felt slippery beneath my feet and there was a slight chill in the air. Since my swim is a rather common time, the volunteers were too overwhelmed to get my bike for me, but luckily I was racked just outside the tent so it was no bother. You spend all this time in training fretting about race day whether, especially the first time around. I had barely checked the forecast prior to the race because when the moment comes, you deal with whatever Mother Nature sends your way and it's never as bad as you imagined it to be. The conditions didn't phase me, but they did plant a seed of caution in my brain - sailing down the Keene descent on wet roads would be interesting.

As I settled in and felt the wind on my wet skin I was happy to have my makeshift tube sock arm warmers (highly recommended for cheap, disposable warmth) and aside from the fog and rain build-up on the glasses, was feeling pretty good. There were huge crowds on the course heading out of town, but it soon became quiet. Just the other cyclists and the stunning Adirondack views. It's one of my favorite places on Earth.

I waited about 10 minutes to start fueling to let the system settle from the swim. It works well for me. I wanted to get a fair amount of fluid and one gel into me before the Keene descent arrived because I knew once I rolled over that hill the last thing I'd want to do was reach for a bottle. Despite the rain and road debris pelting my face the downhill wasn't that bad. I passed tons of cyclists even though my max speed was only 37.7 mph. I think folks must have been erring on the conservative side due to the weather. A race photographer pulled up on a motorcycle during one of the more gentle parts of the descent and wouldn't you know it, I found myself posing a bit even though I was desperately trying to keep a steady line and stay upright. Vanity. But in a flash the rain had stopped and the descent was over, dropping me onto my favorite part of the course - the fast, flat ride on 9N from Keene to Upper Jay.


It was around this time I approached a tandem bike with a visually impaired athlete. It only took a moment to recognize him. It was Charlie Plaskon, the 67-year-old grandfather I first saw in the 2007 Kona broadcast. I've always found him incredibly inspiring so it was an honor to share part of the Ironman experience with him. We played leap frog up and down the hills for nearly 50 miles before going our separate ways. It's the little moments like these that make the hours and hours melt away.

I stopped for a nanosecond at special needs and opted only for a sunscreen reapplication and my gel flask replacement. I had spent 20 miles contemplating changing into dry socks but decided to keep moving instead. I would later regret this decision a little. My feet were soaked from the rain and remained soaked the entire ride. They started to feel like bricks toward the end and I couldn't wait to peel the wet socks off. It was uncomfortable, but tolerable. So many things about Ironman are uncomfortable.

I felt strong during the second loop and was especially proud of how I tackled the climbing. I could feel my time in Italy paying off as I passed other athletes on hills I would normally take much more slowly. A woman even commented as I zipped past on 86 that she wished she could climb as well. I am nowhere near the ability of many and have a long way to go, but I've come a long way already.

As I made my way up the Three Bears and final miles on the course, my mind wandered to the marathon. What was in store for me? I really had no idea what to expect. Five hours? Six hours? It was a complete mystery. All I knew for sure was that I had paced the bike well and my legs felt good. I was ready.

Time - 7:06:06

T2

As I approached the dismount line I heard Mark cheering for me and was beyond surprised. I had no idea he would be there and it filled me with a sense of joy that came with a jolt of energy. I was a little too surprised and gleefully dismounted short of the line. Oops. I had to hobble over before officially getting off my bike. I blew a kiss and started heading to the gear bags, but only made it a few steps before I had to strip off my shoes. My poor feet were so brutalized from the 7 hours of soaking that I could barely walk let alone run so it was a slow journey to the change tent. Removal of the socks revealed pruned up, pure white feet. As I slathered them with Body Glide my volunteer looked horrified. I can't tell you how heavenly my dry socks felt. The shoes only made them feel better. As I cruised out of the tent I felt incredible - my legs were fresh, my feet were happy and I was excited to tackle the marathon.

Time - 7:39

Up next... the run.

August 14, 2010

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 - Pre-Race and Swim

"This is, in a capsule, a very concentrated lifespan. You're gonna have ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sorrows, so... go with it. Accept it. It's all in the making of a character."

- Sister Madonna Buder

Race Week

I likely had one of the more unique Ironman weeks. I arrived home from Italy Tuesday night, July 20th, giving me just four solid days to pack, get myself to Lake Placid, rest and conquer jetlag. I spent the entire day Wednesday working from home and juggling errands prior to my early Thursday departure with a fellow tri club member (my boyfriend Mark would drive up late Friday with my bike and gear). I pulled up my meticulously prepared packing list - I can't recommend this enough for an Ironman, or any trip for that matter - and got to work. I was miraculously finished and in bed by midnight so not only had I accomplished a mountain of work in one day, I had powered through Day 1 jetlag like a pro.

The next couple days were wonderful. I checked in for the race, spent time with my friends Chris and Laura, who also raced IMWI last year, and enjoyed a beer or two from the Lake Placid Brewery. I did a short run with Laura on Thursday and a group swim Friday morning. I spent the rest of Friday in bed with my laptop, legs up, sipping G2 while sorting Italy photos. I peeled myself from bed only to attend the Athlete's Dinner and have another beer (carb-loading, you know...). Mark arrived Friday night with my bike and the remainder of my gear so everything was in place.

In the spirit of continuing to defy all logic as it relates to Ironman preparation, I had an unconventional day-before-the-race routine as well. I took care of the loose ends - had my bike checked out and took it for a spin, packed the gear bags and dropped them off, racked my bike and thought about Special Needs. But I also walked around town a bit with Mark rather than staying off my feet. We had lunch a bit later as well since our dinner plans weren't until 7:15. Rather than hit up a local restaurant for basic pasta, we had a reservation at Kanu at the Whiteface Lodge, our favorite Lake Placid spot. I ate a regular dinner with regular people and wasn't wearing a stitch of spandex. I didn't consume any electrolyte drinks, but rather a couple glasses of a nice, older Bordeaux. After all, I wasn't going to go pro or qualify for Kona on Sunday so I figured I might as well enjoy a beautiful Saturday night with my boyfriend in the place we love. It was perfect.

Race Morning

I was in bed by 10:30 and asleep by 11, pretty much a pre-race record for me... thank you jet lag! I got up at 3:30 a.m. and attempted to get going while allowing Mark a few more precious minutes of sleep. I know how exhausting it is to be an Ironman supporter and wanted to delay the start of his day as much as possible. So I sat in the semi-dark, already dressed in my race clothes, sipping coffee and nibbling my new favorite breakfast food thanks to Italy - toast with Nutella. I prepared two pieces but only managed to consume one, such is a race day stomach. All in all I felt great, but as usual, the emotions were on overload. I get very reflective before an Ironman and am likely to shed tears at least once.

We walked to Special Needs to drop off my bags and got a pre-dawn glimpse of the swim course. It always looks so calm and peaceful in that first morning light before 2,500+ athletes descend upon it. The walk was long and helped to calm the nerves. By the time I got to body marking I was feeling great. Whatever the day would bring was fine with me. I may not have trained the hardest, but I was ready.

Before getting into the water, we found a good spot for Mark to watch the swim exit so I had a hope of actually finding him. I suited up and said goodbye, knowing it would be at least 14 hours before we had another quiet moment. I swam across the lake to find a less aggressive start position and the National Anthem started as I floated in the water. I can't explain what it feels like to be in the water with so many athletes, wading and waiting, simultaneously anxious, excited and terrified. It's one of my favorite parts of the day and you know the moment that cannon goes off you'll be moving until later that night. It's incredible.

Swim

Oh the sea of humanity. You always here about how crowded and brutal the Lake Placid swim is so I was prepared for battle. It was definitely crowded, but likely due to my ultra-conservative start position, it thankfully wasn't brutal. I started far to the right of the docks and buoy line but not on the beach. I chose to be in the water a safe distance from the fasties right at the line, but not all the way in the back either. I think it was perfect. I reached the start line in a matter of seconds, but the first few hundred meters were slow going. You are literally sandwiched between people on all sides at all times. If I couldn't take a stroke I just stayed on my stomach until a sliver of water opened up to get my hand through. This spread out a tiny bit as we moved on, but the entire first loop was pretty compact. The draft is simply amazing. The water is crystal clear so you can see everyone around you and pick your draft targets effortlessly. You also don't need to look up to sight. I think the clarity of vision is why it was less physical than the IMWI swim, where you feel like you're swimming in the dark.

As I reached the end of the first loop I could hear the music and Mike Reilly's voice so I knew I was getting closer. I took a moment to look up - the spectacle of an Ironman swim is like nothing else so you want to pause and look at least once. My goggles were fogged so I couldn't see the clock until I was on the beach and was not happy with what I saw - 53 minutes. Listen, we all know I didn't put in the pool time I should have but 53 minutes for 1.2 miles was slow even for my slowness. I was a little disheartened but kept moving. The second loop was much more spread out, but it was here that I took my first and only kick to the head. Good to get it over with. It was really uneventful in general. I couldn't tell if I was faster, slower or the same as Loop 1 so I just tried to stay comfortable. As I neared the exit I ripped my goggles off expecting to see 1:40+ on the clock and was elated to see 1:29 instead. The Pro head start must have still been on the clock when I exited Loop 1! Silly Kristin.

Time - 1:29:51

T1

This time I was able to run to T1, a nice change from IMWI. I looked like a deer in headlights as I searched the crowd for Mark and instantly changed to happy and smiles when I found him. I got a quick hug and was on my way, very happy with what I accomplished in the water given my training um, challenges (slacking).

video

The tent was dark, crowded and steamy so I grabbed my bag and did my quick work right outside the door. Only apparently I wasn't so quick. My transition times continue to be disgraceful! I must work on that. The rain started just as I left the tent. It was going to be a white-knuckling ride down the slick Keene descent.

Time - 11:12

Up next... the bike.

August 6, 2010

Recovery

My two-week recovery period is nearing an end, which simultaneously makes me sad and elated. Last weekend was a real test with two consecutive rest days on the calendar. Two. Entire. Days. Luckily I bonked after Friday's swim and was force to push my easy bike to Saturday so after sleeping in I biked for an hour and then met a girlfriend for brunch. Brunch was followed by a leisurely outdoor drink, long walk, pedicure and relaxing dinner in the city. I could get used to this rest thing. Or so I thought.

The boredom kicked in on Sunday. After an easy, hour-long walk (involving a flaky, delicious, almond croissant and coffee) I proceeded to clean my apartment for nearly 7 hours. Yes, 7 hours. I did things like mop, move furniture, wash and iron a bed skirt and reorganize closets. I also did laundry, went to a farmer's market and cooked an elaborate dinner. I was so wiped by the end of the day I couldn't wait to collapse onto the couch. I started to wonder: do triathletes know how to relax?

The good news is my body responded well to the break. I had a little bit of training every day this week and had social plans each night. I was tired but only from waking up early again. The deep, heavy fatigue has vanished and my appetite returned to normal. I did my first running - 15 minutes Tuesday after a ride and 25 minutes yesterday - and was issue-free. I still have a swim today and a small brick workout tomorrow before my recovery week is officially over. I'll enjoy the rest day Sunday before leaping into my IMWI build.

Will I be ready? Only time will tell. For now I'm feeling pretty good and am so happy I decided to do two Ironmans this year. I'm not quite ready for the offseason, but I'm sure I will be on September 13.

I've started my race report, which will be posted in three installments just like last year. If you haven't read one, check out my IMWI report and you'll see why it's taking me so long. For a race as long as Ironman it's hard to do a condensed summary and you wouldn't want to. There is so much to capture, so many memories and experiences. I'm hoping to share them with you soon.

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