Ironman Lake Placid Race Report
|July 27, 2011||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
Get comfortable kiddos, this race report might be longer than the actual race.
When I woke up on race day morning, I expected to be crippled with nerves and paralyzed by fear of trying to finish the Ironman, but I wasn’t. I was excited. So excited to finally be racing something that I’ve worked over a year to reach.
When I decided to do an Ironman last summer, there was no question about which one I would do. I did not spend hours researching course profiles. I did not assess which event would be most convenient to travel to from DC. I did not consider how scenic the location was, nor how friendly and enthusiastic the spectators would be. No, the one thing that impacted my decision to do Lake Placid was knowing it is a short 2 hour drive from Vermont and my family would be there on race day morning.
Best. Decision. Ever.
My family was not just there, they were there decked out in hot pink shirts, ready to cheer their hearts out to help me get through 140.6 miles of tough racing.
I won’t ruin the ending of this race report, but believe me, their presence on the race course got me across that finish line.
Because there is nothing I hate more than arriving at the race with 2 minutes before transition area closes, I made sure we were at the Olympic Oval with plenty of time to spare for body marking, body lubing and dropping off my special needs bags.
Even after I’d done all my race morning chores, I had over an hour to chill out on the shore before the cannon would go off for the race start.
While we were on the shore, I heard the announcement that the race would be wetsuit optional. As a fairly confident swimmer with a strong hatred for wetsuits, I never thought I would see the day where I would opt to wear one if given the choice.
But between not wanting to flash everyone in my lululemon-definitely-not-tri-top sports bra and wanting a little extra protection in the wrestling match of a 3,000 athlete mass start, I opted to don the wetsuit.
For those of you not fluent in triathlon rules, deciding to wear a wetsuit made me ineligible for prize money or a Kona slot. I’m sure the competitors in my age group were extremely relieved when they found out this sweaty beast was out of the running.
(Sarcasm people, sarcasm.)
I floated over to the wide edge of the lake and made friends with a guy from Vermont who was treading water beside me. Lucky for me, this guy had done lots of research on the course (something I was entirely too busy to do amidst all my cupcake consumption and not showering) and gave me some helpful tips for finding a hole in the crowd that would afford me the opportunity to start my swim with a few less elbows to the face.
When the gun went off, it felt like a current was propelling me towards the first buoy. Apparently 3,000 athletes all charging towards the same, very small spot, will cause that effect.
I avoided getting kicked in the face by constantly touching feet in front of me, both in hopes of finding nice competitors who would find it in their hearts to avoid pummeling me with their heels and in an attempt to shield myself from any rogue feet.
The Lake Placid swim course is lined with an underwater cable that runs between the buoys and makes it easy for swimmers to swim in a straight line and avoid sighting throughout the race. Sounds great, right?
Well, add thousands of competitive beasts all vying for a spot on this cable and it’s not so great. I decided to avoid the gladiator match and remained a few meters out from the blood bath.
However, with 3,000 swimmers in a small lake, there’s only so much wrestling one can avoid. So I kept trying to find holes in the chaos and work myself into a smooth rhythm. Outside of a few elbows to the head, I was largely successful.
Once I got going, I found myself really enjoying the swim. Mirror Lake is truly a gem of a venue for a triathlon race
The swim is a two loop course, so halfway through you need to run over a mat and then jump back into the water. When I came out and saw my brother wading in the water beside the shore, I couldn’t control my excitement. I was not expecting to spot any of my family members and I certainly did not expect them to be able to pick me out of the hundreds of women all wearing the exact same pink cap and black wetsuit.
My split at the 1.2 mile mark was just under 35 minutes, well within the goal time I set for the swim. I decided fist pumping and yelling to my baby bro was much more important than cutting a few more seconds off my swim time.
I think I made the right choice. Ironman should start awarding bonus points for athlete enthusiasm. I mean, you can get penalized for dropping f-bombs on the course, why not reward competitors who make a fool of themselves with excessive cheering and positivity?
The second loop of the swim course was even better than the first. The crowds had thinned out and it was easier to find open water to swim through. I focused on maintaining my own rhythm, pulling strong and using just enough energy to get a good warmup out of the swim without zapping myself for the next two legs.
While I was the most panicked about the swim leg going into the event
(due solely to the mass start), it was not nearly as terrifying as I expected it to be and I truly LOVED the swim portion of the day.
I thought for sure my time would be slower after my first split, but I came out of the water at 1:11.11, nearly even splitting my swim time.
As soon as I came out of the water, a wetsuit stripper was on top of me to help me tear it off. Just in case I wasn’t already sold on the IMLP swim course being the best ever, Team Ironman threw in a butt load of awesome volunteers to help really seal the deal.
The transition from swim to bike at IMLP is a bit tedious. You need to run 800 meters between the water and the Olympic Oval (where the transition area is) before you reach your gear and bike.
My family staggered themselves throughout the path from the lake to the Oval, so I kept seeing hot pink shirts cheering excitedly for me as I made the run up the hill.
Once in the transition area, I was greeted by more awesome volunteers. It’s really incredible how easy Team Ironman makes your transitions. You’re immediately greeted by a volunteer who will bellow your bib number to the next volunteer, who will grab your gear and escort you to the changing tent for your gender. Once in the tent, they strip you, lube you, sunscreen you and get you back out on the course as fast and with as much enthusiasm as humanly possible. I would like to propose a lifetime athlete/volunteer marriage to every soul who helped me on race day. Words cannot express how amazing these people were.
Transition 1: 6:28
I have no idea how they did it, but somehow my family took a page from Harry Potter and apparated from the swim course to the bike exit to see me off on lap one of my ride.
My race plan for the bike was to ride “stupid easy” for the first lap. My friend, and LP course expert Jon advised me that starting stupid easy was the key to surviving all 112 miles of biking.
So I left town focused on pedaling without much effort. As soon as you leave the village of Lake Placid, you hit a couple of hills, and one particularly nasty one before hitting the legendary screaming descent into Keene. I kept my bike in a low gear and watched many, many athletes pass me as I climbed steadily up and up and up.
When I visited Lake Placid in May, I practiced the 6 mile descent into Keene, marked by truck low gear sign after truck low gear sign and was positively terrified by it. You can’t hold your brakes on the way down because it will burn them out by the bottom. The best strategy is to feather, hold your ride steady and pray you won’t fall off.
Well, on race day, it was not so terrifying. I don’t know if it was the head wind or the comfort of all the athletes surrounding me, but I felt much more confident making this descent. I let myself hit speeds over 35mph, which compared to the 50 mph some fools plummet down in, may not seem all that impressive, but for me, it was huge!
After eating the downhill for breakfast, we hit a stretch of rollers. Again, I kept repeating to myself “stupid easy” “stupid easy” “stupid easy” and really tried to adhere to pedaling smooth and not letting my adrenaline beat my sensibility.
One of my favorite parts of the ride was an out and back portion that allowed me to see friends on the bike course as one of us pedaled out while the other pedaled back. I decided craning my neck and losing some aero position was worth it for the camaraderie of cheering on my buds.
I was shocked to find myself loving the bike course. It was a BEAUTIFUL day in the Adirondacks, the scenery was breathtaking, the other athletes were so fun and constantly cheering for one another and the spectators along the course were amazing: equipped with car stereos blaring music, buckets or mailboxes to drum on, and giant foam hands to slap you with a high five as you struggled to get up a tough hill. I cannot say enough good things about the outpouring of support from folks in the region.
The one problem I had on the first loop of the bike course was hydration. My water bottles, stocked with nuun, both fell off my bike early on in the course. I didn’t worry about it because I knew the IM aid stations had fluids that would fit in my cages. Or so I thought…Turns out the Poland Springs bottles that the IM course distributes do not in fact, fit in my apparently gigantic bottle cages. I, unfortunately, did not realize this until I was a few minutes past the aid station when all my hydration went flying off as I rounded a sharp corner.
I knew the Ironman Perform sports drink bottles would fit on my bike, but I also knew I was far away from the next aid station where I could pick some up. I started desperately hawking every bike that went past me to see if other bikers had hydration to spare.
This hydration catastrophe occurred on the toughest part of the Lake Placid race course which starts 14 miles before heading into town. It’s a long, slow climb before you hit 5 hills known as “little cherry” “big cherry” “mama bear” “baby bear” and “papa bear”
I knew even if an aid station was 10 miles away, it might take me an hour to get there. And it was getting hotter and hotter. With all my recent dehydration issues, I knew I could not afford to play it fast and loose with my fluid intake so early on in the race. So I did something a little sketch: I saw a discarded bike water bottle on the side of the road that had clearly flown off someone’s bike and I stopped, picked it up and thanked the bike gods for saving my day.
Don’t judge me. Dehydration desperation leads a girl to make questionable decisions.
Shortly after I found my savior of a plastic water bottle, I hit the 5 climbs. I thought this would be the worst part of the course, but as I headed up mama bear, I saw a group of people holding a sign that read: “smile if you pee on a bike,” so I started beaming enthusiastically, obviously…As I got closer, I saw that this group of girls contained some DC friends! My already ear to ear grin got even wider as one pal nearly high fived me off my bike with her hearty slap.
Then I hit Papa bear, the final beast of a hill on lap one, and saw more friends along with tons of other spectators waving signs, ringing bells and cheering at the top of their lungs to get us bikers up that hill. Seeing this outpouring of support for us was the first thing that triggered tears during the race. Happy tears! But still, there were tears. I could not control a huge grin as I rounded the corner and pedaled the last bit into town.
Once in town, the course is lined with thousands of people. Luckily, the hot pink shirts my fam and The Rocketship were wearing were easy to find, I cheered loudly at them as they excitedly waved, shouted and fist pumped me on to my second lap.
It’s impossible for me to put into words how happy I was when I finished that first loop of the course. And if you couldn’t tell by the sheer length of this race report, I’m a very wordy girl, so that’s saying something.
I hit the halfway point around 3:30, well within the bike time I hoped to achieve on race day.
The second loop was much quieter for me. Many of the athletes who swim slower than me had passed me long ago. But I still managed to make friends with a lot of people out on the course. If anyone was wearing something even remotely related to Vermont, I would strike up a conversation with them, and I was lucky enough to see a few blogging friends out killing the day. Our Ironman bibs have our names printed on them, which really helps both spectators and athletes cheer each other on.
I continued to feel good and steady on the second loop until I hit about Mile 80. At this point, my legs began to feel a bit tired and were not so excited to hit the final stretch of long, slow hills before I could get off the bike. Add a friendly dose of inability to pee on the bike to the mix and I was ready to get off Big Red and get started on my run.
During one particularly long, tough stretch that many spectators had abandoned after the faster athletes flew by hours ago, I came across a group of 20 IM fans who were cheering for us slower cyclists as if we were winning the Tour De France. Music blared, streamers were blowing in the wind, and these people must have been close to losing their voice with the volume and enthusiasm they cheered us on with. Cue second time Sweaty Emily had happy tears during the race.
I kept going steady and knew I could still finish the bike course under 7:30 if I kept going at my current pace.
And then I heard the sound that every rider dreads on race day: the vicious hissing of a tire going flat.
I pulled over to the side of the climb I had been ascending and told myself to stay calm, not panic and get the tire changed as quickly as possible.
I tried to take off the front tire and I couldn’t! I was TOO SWEATY. The girl who lives, eats and breathes for sweat was TOO SWEATY to get the tire off. I stood there paralyzed, watching rider after rider going by offering to lend me a tool, but not help.
And then my hero appeared. My good friend from DC pulled up beside me and immediately started to help me change my tire. I pleaded with him to not worry about me and keep doing his own race, but he is apparently the nicest person in the entire world and would have none of it. He helped me until the official IM support crew came along and took over for him.
Once I had a new tire on Big Red, I hit the road again, surprisingly not traumatized by the flat and the time loss it caused. I knew I needed to just accept that it had happened and continue to have the best race that I possibly could.
As I neared the end of the bike, I started to really think about the run. Yes, I love to run off the bike. I love running during triathlons. But a full marathon? As a girl who has done 12 full marathons in my life, I felt incredibly daunted by the feat that lay ahead of me.
I made it up the final hill, cheered on once again by amazing volunteers and spectators and looped back through town to head out on the run.
As I passed my family, I tried to tell them I had flatted but was ready to kill it on the run. but I thought they were cheering too loudly to listen to anything I was saying. When I read my brother and The Rocketship’s tweets after the race, I realized they had in fact heard me yelling at them.
I was definitely tired and ready to get off the bike by the end of the 112 miles but I felt like the day was mine. Yes, a full marathon is tough, but running is my strength and I knew I was going to finish this Ironman.
Once in the transition area, I was once again greeted by amazing volunteers. I, however, was not in such amazing shape. I managed to grab my bike bag instead of my run bag, and as much as I wanted to run a full marathon in my wetsuit and bike shoes, I allowed a volunteer to go scrambling after my correct bag. Between this err and the flat, I decided to take my time in transition and change into my full running ensemble before heading out for the marathon.
Transition 2: 7:17
While my legs had felt tight walking my bike into transition, as soon as I started to run, I felt fresh, light and ready to just crush the marathon.
My Garmin of course could not find satellites during transition, so I decided to run blind and use just the stop watch that had been ticking away since the gun went off at 7am.
I saw my family and The Rocketship as I was leaving town. It is impossible to convey the sheer excitement I felt every time I spotted my merry crew of cheerleaders.
While I had no idea what my pace was, I assumed it was in the 9 minute/mile range.
I was shocked when I reached the 2 mile mark and realized I was averaging about an 8:10 min/mile, but I felt great and felt I was running a sustainable pace, so I continued to run by feel and not worry about the clock.
Shortly after we left town, we ran past the Olympic Ski Jumps, truly one of the most breathtaking spots on the IMLP course. You are instantly reminded of the incredible athletic feats that others have accomplished in the town and are instantly surged with fresh motivation to power through your own race.
And then I hit Mile 3 and tried to take a Gu to adhere to my strategy of fueling every 30-45 minutes on the run and that’s when disaster hit. As soon as I took the gu in, it was ready to go right back out of me. I desperately sprinted to a porta potty as my stomach revolted.
I exited in hopes that the problem lay solely with the Gu and other types of nutrition would mesh better with my stomach. I saw someone handing out grapes at the next aid station and thought they sounded like a genius idea, so I grabbed a handful and bit into one. I spit that thing out as fast as it went into my mouth and chucked the remainder of the grapes onto the side of the road. I knew then that I was in serious trouble.
I could barely make it between porta potty stops and was forced to walk on numerous occasions to avoid stomach catastrophe. When I could run, my legs felt so strong, but my stomach was cramping, filled with shooting pains and unable to hold any food or fuel down. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to know that my legs had a great marathon in them, but to have to walk to avoid collapsing with crippling stomach pains or getting sick all over the race course.
After exiting one of the many porta potties that got graced with my presence, I ran into one of my friends who is a certified bad ass Ironman. She was well on her way to a huge PR and an 11:05 finish when she ran up beside me. I told her what was happening and she encouraged me to run with her for a bit. Her pace (around an 8 min/mile) felt perfect and I loved the distraction and motivation of running beside her. But once again, my stomach couldn’t keep up with my legs and I had to painfully say goodbye to her as I ran for another bathroom and slowed down to a walk again.
Amazingly, I did not cry at all as this was happening. I kept trying to solve the problem and move on: I tried drinking coke, just water, whatever might make a difference with my stomach. But nothing worked. I truly could not keep ANY food, fluid or water down. So I gave up and tried to walk/run as best I could to finish my first lap.
I knew my family and The Rocketship were probably wondering where I was and thinking that I hit a wall. I was well above my target pace for the marathon and with the many, many bathroom stops, was averaging a pace that was pretty much unheard of for me.
When I looped into town and saw them standing there around mile 11, I ran over to them and told them what was happening and I lost it. As I choked out the words “I can’t keep any food or fluid down” I burst into tears and started to sob. I felt terribly for breaking down and losing strength in front of them, but I couldn’t contain it. It was hot, my body was not working and I still had 15 long miles to go before I reached the finish line.
I will never forget the looks on their faces as worry instantly washed over them. My mom urged me to not finish if it wasn’t safe and they all hugged me and said anything they thought might help me carry on as safely as possible.
I left them behind, still crying behind my sunglasses and tried to muster up strength to make it to the turnaround point for the first loop but it was still too painful to hold a run so I walked most of the rest of the first lap before running wordlessly past my stoic family as I headed out on the second loop of the course.
I wanted them to think I was okay and not worry about me as I left for the next 13 miles of running. But in my head, I did not know how I was going to finish the marathon.
I decided the best strategy was to stop even trying to drink water. For a while I had been combining cups of ice with water and it was the best tasting thing ever. But I would last about 30 seconds before I would have to sprint to a bathroom or the woods, and after every bathroom incident, my stomach would be too bothered to handle the impact of running. So I stopped putting anything in my body and used the cold sponges from aid stations to at least keep my body cool during the peak heat of the day.
Once I stopped giving anything to my stomach for it to revolt against, it started to calm down and I was able to run again. Unfortunately, running a marathon with absolutely no food or water is hard enough, but running a marathon with no food or water after swimming 2.4 and biking 112 miles is nearly impossible. I held the best pace I could while allowing myself to walk up hills.
I never doubted that I would finish the race, but thoughts of collapsing on the race course crept into my head. I told myself to take it one mile at a time and do the best I could, in the safest way possible. I thought about all of the days of sweat that I had poured into training for the race and all of my friends who were battling their own challenges, and overcoming them, to reach the finish line. I thought about Mike Reilly, bellowing my name and telling me that I AM an Ironman, and how there was no obstacle too great to keep me away from that moment.
As I headed back into town, I saw my mom way before I expected to see her. If you read her report from the day, you’ll find she was incredibly worried about me, even though I thought I was actually holding a good pace since I was running steady again. I had gotten myself that far in the race by telling myself that soon I would see my family and The Rocketship, seeing my mom appear minutes before I expected to sent a wave of relief over me.
As soon as she saw me, she started to run beside me, making sure I was okay and telling me I could do it. When we rounded the next corner into town, we saw my dad waiting, who joined us, offering his own words of support to me as I headed to my final two miles of the course.
The Rocketship and my brother were going crazy as I ran past them. They knew I could do it, and they sent me off without a doubt in my mind that the finish line would be mine.
I kept running, with my dad beside me (in his clogs!), and tackled the last two miles. My body, with no food or water in it for miles, was beyond done, but I pushed it, willing it to just finish those last few minutes of the race.
As I looked at my watch, I knew I could still finish the race under 14 hours if I kept running and didn’t slow to a walk, and believe me, I was not about to miss that opportunity.
When I got to half a mile to go, I surged with every ounce of energy I had left. As I flew past a guy, he asked a volunteer how much distance was left, when she responded “not much!” he sprinted ahead to avoid getting chicked at the finish. Well, let me tell you, I did not give a shit if this asshole finished before me. ALL I cared about was hearing Mike Reilly say my name and I was not about to risk crossing the finish line in a mad race against some jerk when I could let him go ahead and get my own glory cross.
Believe me, having my own moment at the finish was 100 percent worth it. Rounding the corner and being surrounded by deafening cheers and seeing that finish line was one of the best moments of my life.
And actually crossing the finish, and hearing Mike Reilly bellow: “EMILY HALNON, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” was easily the best moment of my life.
Sure, having a great race and crossing that finish line still would have felt glorious. But pushing through the hardest race of my life and overcoming every obstacle Lake Placid could throw at me? A finish line never tasted so sweet.
(That’s a sub-14 in case you don’t speak bad ass sibling sign language)
Ironman Finish: 13:53.44