Recap of IRONMAN 70.3 Lake Placid - 2019
I wrote this recount of my event in the days following our time in Lake Placid but for some reason I took a while to publish it. Now it feels like the right time to post this and to remember it.
I wanted to write down and remember as much as I could about my 70.3 at Lake Placid for two reasons. One, in the months leading up to my race I read so many race recounts and it was tremendous help to me in my mental preparation. Also secondly I want people to understand that if this is something you’ve ever WANTED to do, you absolutely can. There is no “triathlete type.” I saw all ages, genders, shapes and sizes out on the course. Do not stop yourself before you even try. Do not sell yourself short. If you train and prepare yourself correctly you will be welcomed into this community with open arms and you will cross paths with some people you will never forget. You get one life. Do things that really challenge you and you will find so much personal growth, I promise.
DAY BEFORE: Having said that, the day before the race I was kind of a mess. I do this every time before my bigger events. My anxiety shows up in the form of obsessive organization. I start laying out my gear, packing and repacking it. The forecast for race day wasn’t helping in that it was calling for temperatures around start time to be in the 30s with rain throughout the morning. This meant I had to wear things that I hadn’t trained in. I had to predict what would keep me warm on the bike and the run when I would be the most exposed to the air temps. So for much of the day I was completely lost in thought, slightly panicked and a terrible conversationalist. Apologies to my husband, Jim, who basically had the pleasure of staring at me at dinner while I picked at my food and stared distantly into the ceiling of the restaurant.
The day before also held the mandatory bike check in. This meant that I had to register myself, get my bib and equipment stickers but I also I had bring my bike down to the race start and leave it there overnight. We had only just arrived at Lake Placid at 1pm (which I regret, I would arrive a day earlier next time) so I was already feeling rushed for time. In the last minute gear check something funny happened with my front bike tire – it kind of exploded. As we were making sure the tire pressure was where it needed to be, the pressure quickly deflated as it sounded like the valve broke. If there was a moment where I kind of lost it, this was it. It took everything in me to stay calm. I dropped everything I was doing at that moment and marched my bike down to the bike mechanics who were camped out on the grounds of the start. Fortunately the saint who worked with me for a few minutes, assured me the valve was fine and we just had to inflate it again. I remember telling myself that I had to just believe what she was telling me, but if I’m honest I was having trust issues in that moment. I had to just accept there was literally nothing more I could do and it was going to be fine. This wasn’t the easiest thing to do when I knew there was a descent on the bike course where I would likely hit over 45 miles per hour (yes, you read that right.)
Once I got my bike checked in I mounted it on the rack and realized my bike computer wasn’t registering. I had been having trouble with it in the weeks leading up to the event but I thought I had resolved it. This was not the case. This meant I would be riding the entire course without any information. I wouldn’t know what speed I was maintaining, nor would I know how many miles I had left. I was starting to feel like my race day details were trying to cut me off at the knees but I just had to push on. I was adamant that these annoyances would not be my race day’s demise.
MORNING OF: After a rather awful night of sleeping, I got out of bed at 4:30am and started pacing around the apartment we rented. I started eating my ritualistic before-a-big-event-breakfast of peanut butter and jelly (for me it’s the perfect combo of carbs, protein and fat.) I laughed as my phone started blowing up because my friend and training partner, Hannah, woke up and started texting me repeatedly. I also remember refreshing and re-refreshing my phone because the current temperature said 50 degrees which was so much warmer than I was expecting. I actually couldn’t believe it so naturally I thought my phone was broken because that just felt par for the course. (Thankfully it was accurate.)
Finally around 5:30 I started getting dressed. I kissed my sleeping husband goodbye and I walked down to the start. (Jim would join the course later after the swim started but it makes no sense for him to come with me to the start. He isn’t allowed anywhere near me in the transition area.)
The transition area in most triathlons before a race is usually this very palpable, quiet, dark but totally electric space. People are getting ready and doing last minute preparations but everyone is nervous. I was grateful to see my front wheel was totally fine and so I decided to really try to put that concern out of mind or at least try to. I walked over to the body markers to get my number written on my arms and legs, I hit the portopotty once and I was good.
SWIM: The thing that surprised me the most about this day was the calm that washed over me in the minutes before the race. I walked from transition to the beach area of Mirror Lake and I was in awe. It was so gorgeous. It was actually the first time I had seen it because I hadn’t had a chance to walk there the day before thanks to all my day-before complications. I took a deep breath and I got in line. As I was standing there taking it in, my good friends Doug and Cynthia walked by which was perfect timing. It was exactly the distraction I needed. We took some photos and they kept my spirits high.
I ended up having to wait a while because I had put myself around the 45 minute sign. The start was self seeded so you just kind of massed in with the people who were around the same projected time as you. There were volunteers standing with signs of all the different times so you knew where to be. I actually was able to get out of line, stand in the warming tent (which was lovely) and then get back in when my grouping got closer to the water.
I was prepared for a mass start but they were actually releasing people 4 at a time and despite having to wait a bit, I loved this. It meant there were plenty of people on the course but not hoardes of us all at once.
Finally it was my time to go and I was ready. I still can’t believe that I wasn’t overly anxious. I felt like, it was just time to go and I was going to start. No big deal (bah!) They waved us in, I started my watch and I ran into the lake. I braced for the shock for the water temp but it actually never happened. The water was the perfect temperature (in the high 60s.) I was on my way.
Now what you need to know about me is that I’m a decent swimmer but a terrible sighter. This means I’m not very good at simultaneously swimming and seeing where I am. This disorients me and the advice I always give to people about the swim is to STAY CALM. You can get into a lot of trouble if you freak out in the water so above all else, focus on your breathing and the things that you need to stay relaxed. So for me this meant breaststroking. I don’t care what anyone says about breaststrokers and how they swim wide and kick out. I didn’t kick a single person, I knew where I was at all times and I was able to stay super calm and execute. I held a straight line and could always see how far out I was and how far I had to go. Meanwhile I was also able to see so many freestylers swimming ALL over the course, in all different directions, adding so much time and distance to their race. One guy swam completely perpendicular to the course as if he was trying to swim to shore but I don’t think that was his intention. When I saw this and actually laughed out loud, I couldn’t help myself.
As I was getting closer to shore I swam as far as I could until my hands touched the bottom because I’ve made that mistake before of standing up too fast. You are often are pretty woozy after the swim from having to exhale into the water all that time. I knew I didn’t want to walk in the water any more than I had to. Once I finally did stand up I looked down at my watch. I swam 1.2 miles in 46 minutes, exactly where I wanted to be.
As I was exiting I saw my husband on the sideline and it was such a comfort to see him there. I don’t really know why but I threw my swim cap and goggles to him because obviously I was done with those. In retrospect that was kind of a funny thing to do because I could have just held onto them and kept them with my stuff in transition.
A few feet away were the volunteers who are the “wetsuit strippers” Their whole job is to help you out of your suit fast. This is such a great help because, in my post-swim wooziness I was struggling to even unzip myself. I found a great volunteer who got me out so fast and I was on my way.
Lake Placid’s course actually has a pretty far run from the swim back to transition. Its at least a quarter mile, barefoot down the streets. I knew this about the course so it wasn’t a surprise but if you are planning to do this course know that your first transition time will be longer than most.
BIKE: The bike is my favorite leg by far so as soon as I got my gear on I was ready. I ran with my bike out of transition and I was on my way. The first ten miles of the course were lovely. I was able to warm up after the swim with some rolling hills and mostly flat roads. It wasn’t a problem at all. About ten miles out of town you start descending into Keene. This stretch of road is actually the most famous stretch of the course for the fact you can hit up to 45-50mph going down it. It’s a 5-7 mile downhill that has you flying for about 20 minutes. Because this part of the course has such a reputation I could have easily been terrified of it but I had heard the morning of that the road was dry and I knew it would be closed to traffic. Thinking back on it, those 20 minutes, at those high speeds were quite possibly the most fun I have ever had on a bike. I absolutely loved it. I started to think about all the hard work I had done, all the time I had spent training, all the sacrifices I had made to get myself ready and I just started to cry. Tears were streaming down my face as I was whipping down this Adirondack mountain surrounded by the most beautiful lakes and rivers and wildlife. It was overwhelming. Right around that time the sun poked out from behind the clouds and I was the happiest I can ever remember being racing. I want to remember that feeling and that moment forever.
And….. then my chain popped. The thing I think I will take away from this event and from triathlon in general is that things just happen. You need to be able to problem solve and handle your situation without freaking out. So there I was in the middle of the mountains on the side of the road with only other bikers flying by me. I needed to fix my bike, by myself, with the limited skills and tools I had. Fortunately I could manually re-cog my chain but I noticed I couldn’t shift my front gear. At all. This was going to be an issue as I needed my easier gears to get me up the climbs on the back half of the ride, but I honestly couldn’t think about it then. I got back on my bike and just kept going.
For the next ten miles or so, nothing was really an issue. I was managing my bike, I was managing the road and despite riding without a bike computer to know my speed I felt like I was going at a good clip. I can’t stress enough how absolutely stunning the scenery was. It was like a National Geographic documentary with the mountains looming, the raging rivers next to the road and one point I had this beautiful heron sailing off to my right. It was so much to take in and I tried so hard to just absorb it and imprint it onto my memory.
Somewhere around mile 38 or 40 we started to climb and basically it never stopped. It felt as if the ten miles between 38 to 48 were straight to the sky and stretched forty miles long. Time slowed down and we just worked and worked and worked. Somewhere in there my chain popped again. I swore out loud, but fixed it and carried on. I was actually grateful that while this mechanical issue was a problem for sure, and it was making everything so much harder, it wasn’t ending my race. I still couldn’t shift to use all my gears and despite not having the luxury of my easiest gears I would push through. I had no other choice.
The winds picked up but they were funny. I don’t really remember much of a constant head wind but instead these gusts that would come out of nowhere. They would push me 2 or 3 feet to the right and then stop. I obviously couldn’t anticipate them but at this point in the ride I was getting tired and I remember telling myself to stay focused because a gust could have easily pushed me off the road.
I have to take a minute and talk about the volunteers. I had heard from other triathletes that the locals from the area really show up for the race and that is 100% true. They were so encouraging and so positive. Your name is printed on your bib and so often they would call you by name to motivate you through the aid stations. They would tell us we were doing great and amusing to me so, so many of them complimented my purple and blue hair. I do remember on one of the last climbs of the bike course I was spent. I was so very done with climbing hills and I am sure my face was saying it all. There were these two very positive, loud women at the crest of the hill cheering and dancing. I couldn’t help but smile and as soon as I did they yelled, “THERE SHE IS!!!” I obviously never got their names but I wish I could have thanked them for saying that. It helped more than I can explain. It was the exactly the bright spot I needed because shortly after that my chain popped for the third and final time. I fixed it yet again but if it wasn’t for those women I’m not sure I would have maintained my sanity to do it.
Eventually it did start to look like we were riding back into the town of Lake Placid which meant the bike course was ending. As I rounded the final turn I saw a bunch of my friends and my husband and just the sight of them carried me to the finish. I saw the arch where I was to get off my bike and I ran to my rack spot to drop my bike. My finish time for the bike was 3 hours and 26 minutes.
RUN: The run is where I disintegrated, but this is *always* the case. I am NOT a natural runner. I’m slow and it is so much harder for me than biking or even swimming. I have never loved running but I do it for the challenge. I do it because it is hard and it is part of this sport that I have fallen in love with.
The first mile or two of the run out of town are downhill which is both good and bad. It is good because it allowed me to find my running legs after so many hours on the bike. I was able to maintain the pace I had hoped to hold pretty easily and I was on my way. The downhill is bad though because you knew you’d have to run UP that hill at the very end of the run when all the life had left your body. I tried not to think about that and I just pushed forward. Somewhere around mile four or five I settled into a pace that was slower than I had hoped but I do remember talking to myself saying, forward is a pace, just keep going.
Now a little more about technology. I had a pace watch on for the run which in my race prep, I thought was critical. I thought I HAD to know how far I had run and what my pace was. Turns out, for me personally, this was a mistake. There was never any point in the run that I felt like I wasn’t going to finish the course, I had trained sufficiently for that. So knowing the miles, minute by minute wasn’t THAT important especially since they had road marked each individual mile. However to see my pace be SO MUCH slower than my normal training pace was a little disheartening. I wasn’t prepared to feel so depleted after the bike but I suppose 56 miles in the mountains with mechanical issues will have an effect. I remember looking at my watch and questioning if I could go any faster but at the same time feeling a bit like I was out of my body. Some thing, some force was pushing me along, I’m not exactly sure what it was, but it was in control and I was not. I could not push any faster. I also was looking around at what you would perceive as incredibly fit athletes, people with swag from other 70.3 courses on, and they were completely humbled and walking on the course. There was no doubt this course at Lake Placid was incredibly difficult and many of us were on the brink.
The other thing that was happening was that I knew based on my watch that I was going to be VERY close to my total time goal of finishing under seven hours but as the miles ticked on, that goal started to drift away. I actually made peace with it out on the course and reminded myself of the time I lost having to fix my bike. Finishing under seven hours was my “A goal” but fortunately some of the best advice I got in my preparation was to also have a “B goal.” So I let the seven hours go and I moved on to my next goal which was to take it in, enjoy myself, really absorb the fact that I was there and I had prepared. To every other runner who was out there on the course who said, “Good job” to me, I replied with, “You too! We are going to finish this!” I thanked as many of the volunteers as I could and I smiled at all the people cheering me on. It was so emotional. It was such an experience and I feel like words are failing me to adequately describe it.
In all those emotions though, there is one kicker with the run course at Lake Placid. The majority of the run is on this lovely tree lined road. You run six miles out and then turn back toward town. You can hear the music and excitement of the finish. You actually pull up alongside the final yards of the course but right around mile 12 you turn 90 degrees and go back out of town. Fortunately I knew this was going to happen but I cannot tell you how happy I was to see my husband standing on that corner. I literally fell into his arms and despite still being on the clock I stayed there. He held me up and asked, "How are you doing?" And I remember squeaking out, "I want to be done." He told me I had a mile and a half to go and that I could do this. I left him moments later renewed with the fact I was going to finish in large part because of his support right then and over the last 9 months.
Moments later I saw more friends on the side of the course who were cheering and screaming for me. My dear college friend, Kathryn Bertine, who was also racing but had completed her race already saw me and actually ran alongside of me for a minute or so. We laughed, she encouraged me, we took selfies. Those moments helped so much. I had been alone with my thoughts for close to 7 hours and to see these people who believed in me, and who were so close to my heart, was everything.
In the final quarter mile there is an ever so slight downhill into town that made it possible to pick up the pace just enough to feel proud and excited. You approach the oval where the Olympic procession was in 1932 and 1980 and round the bend to the finish line. People are lining the entirety of this stretch – cheering and screaming. Music is blasting. When I saw the arch over the finish I was overcome with emotion. I put my hands to my face and lost control. I had done it, I had finished. They announced my name over the loudspeaker and it was absolutely unreal. I promptly fell into the arms of this very lovely elderly woman who put the medal around my neck. She held onto me to make sure I was able to continue walking to the holding area at the finish. I remember saying, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay” but I was sobbing and gasping and laughing and shaking. It was like no other finish I have ever experienced and it has taken me days to come down from it (and days to write this recount of the event.) TOTAL TIME: 7:04:58 (Not for nothing but those 5 minutes I was over 7 hours is just about how much time I spent fixing my bike in the mountains.)
Moments later I reunited with my husband. I hugged him again and cried into his shirt. Shortly after that I heard the scream of my training partner, Hannah, as she ran toward me and jumped on me. I was in such a state in the final yards I didn’t
I do remember saying outloud on the finish that I only ever want to do FLAT Olympic length events from now on and never a full IRONMAN. Now, a few days later, I say never say never. I can’t see that as my last Lake Placid event. It was just too magical. It is such an amazing little town and such a beautiful area I would love to go back.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also talk about my personal reasons for taking this event on and how that washed over me throughout the day. When I was I was first deciding to commit to this, 9 months in advance, I knew that I needed a reason bigger than myself to propel me. I didn’t have to look far for a reason. Our son, Henry has a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis or NF1 that can cause physical and/or cognitive symptoms. It effects 1 in 3000 people – more than cystic fibrosis, hereditary muscular dystrophy, Huntington's disease, and Tay Sachs combined. On the day of my race, during all those hours I was alone with my thoughts I focused on my son and my family. When it was challenging on the course, I swelled with pride knowing at the time of my race I had raised $4,461.00 for the very clinic we go to annually at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This money will go to the technologies and testing that will benefit not just Henry, but all the kids who seek treatment there.
To wrap up all of this up I would just say if you have ever thought about doing a 70.3 and have the discipline and desire to train diligently for months in advance, I say go for it. But I will also say in some ways discipline and desire isn’t really enough. You need people around you who support you and can encourage your training. You will doubt yourself in the weeks before the race. You will likely burn out to some degree. You will question why you signed up in the first place but if you remember anything from this very detailed account it is that forward is a pace. Just keep moving forward and go through with it. Throw yourself through it because it will be so entirely and completely worth it. This experience was so beyond my expectations. The memories I have from Sunday, September 8th at Lake Placid are mine to keep and I’m so grateful to have them.
Now go ahead – find your race: trifind.com or ironman.com. Email me to tell me your plans at firstname.lastname@example.org because I want to cheer you on.