I love the Lake Placid Ironman. Next year, I hope it loves me back.
Things didn’t go exactly as I planned this year, but they never do at an Ironman. The swim was combative, the bike was warm and windy, and I struggled through 20 miles of intermittent violent leg cramps on the run. But, it was great to be healthy and a privilege to race there, even though I expected to be about thirty minutes faster. I ended up missing the podium and Kona by three places, finishing in 10:51:51 and placing 8th in the 50-54 AG and 140th overall.
Besides the race, the absolute best part of this race is the week leading up to it. Once again, we rented a big 7-bedroom Victorian house above Main St., about ten minutes from the swim start. The house is so close that, on race morning, Steve Levickas and I walked home before the swim rather than stand in portapotty lines. And, we made it back in plenty of time to join the announced 2600 racers at swim start.
All week the house was filled with MMTC folks: Bob and Sadj, Steve and Bridgett Levickas, George and Pei Schlossnagle, the Kish family, Dawn Rudolph and her friend Scott, Deb Taylor and Dan Mooney, and my son Kevin and me. This was the first time Kevin had been to Lake Placid, and, because he’d been in summer school until this year, he hadn't come to one of my Ironman races since Coeur d’Alene in 2007.
Located just above the Starbucks on Main Street, with a huge front porch, the house was a frequent gathering place for MMTC: it was great hanging with Heather Beutel, Chip Warfel, Bob Villaneuva, Susie Rocks, Kim Sheridan, Gwen Musk, Loretta, Lindsay Osteen, Mike Colohan, Jim and Michelle Bettis, Mike Peterson, Lisa Farias and Jim Cioffi, Bryan McMillan, Mo Emery and others. A happy birthday for Chip turning 50 and Lisa getting her pro card made for more festivities. Many of us were at Placid from Tuesday to Tuesday, and it was a delightful week.
Although it heated up a bit on race day, we had perfect weather during the week (cool dry evenings, with temps between the 40s and low 80s, while it was in the 100s and stormy at home). We shared great meals and it was very relaxing. It was great hanging out with Club Members who seemed to be everywhere on race day: 21 racing and 47 volunteering. I really appreciated the frequent shout-outs from every corner of the course (or so it seemed). Thanks to all who worked the MMTC tent on race day! Next year, it looks like we’ll have even more Club Members taking Lake Placid by storm.
Swim: 1:08:57 (29/210)
Since WTC boosted registration to 3000 (from about 2000 only five years ago), the swim at Lake Placid has turned from cooperative to violent. This year, they announced 2600 starters, including 900 Ironman rookies who had likely never been in a mass swim start before. I suspect that contributed to the violence.
As much I complain about overstuffing Mirror Lake with swimmers, it also offers more drafting opportunities, which for me means a faster swim. This year I had at least 25 different partners during the course of the 2.4 mile swim, and I had my fastest Ironman swim ever (even though it was a PR by less than a minute).
It really pays to learn to draft in the swim. If you find the right feet to follow (someone slightly faster than you), not only is your swim faster but you save energy. It also makes the swim go faster because your focus is on following, but not touching, those dancing feet. I prefer swimmers with a two-beat kick. The violent kickers are hard to follow: too many bubbles.
Although the water felt warmer to me, the water temperature was reported to be 74 degrees. Last year it was even warmer: anyone competing for an AG award or Kona couldn’t wear a wetsuit, and we got trampled by the faster wetsuiters coming up behind. This year was no less violent, but at least it was a fair fight.
Starting four rows back and in the middle, I was in the heart of the action. I find that this is a good place for me: I’m not in the way of the fast swimmers and I’m perfectly situated to find a drafting partner who is bit faster than me. But I also pay a price by starting in the center of the “washing machine.” I took one kick to the face, flooding my right goggle. If you stop, you’re dead meat. So, like Nemo, I kept on swimming and fixed it after the first loop. One eye is good enough to follow feet. On the second loop, even though it thinned out a bit, I took an elbow to the face, knocking the goggles askew again. This time, away from the throngs, I could fix the goggles right away.
This swim offered a new experience: at least four times, someone grabbed my leg with both hands and pulled me back. This is in no one’s interest, but there seemed to be people who couldn’t swim straight (even with the cable) and they took umbrage that someone was in the water where they wanted to be. I think the anonymity of the swim also leads to incivility. Sort of like driving around Washington, D.C.
I finished my first loop at 33:20, then up on the beach, through the timing mats and back around the dock where we pick up the buoys for the second loop. I slowed a bit in the second loop, probably because I had more open water and had to do the work by myself for awhile, splitting at 35:37 and coming out of the water in 1:08:57.
T1: 5:37 (8/210)
T1 is about 300 meters from the swim finish down a carpeted path with screaming people on each side. Lake Placid offers wetsuit strippers, which I’ve used before but don’t with my Xterra wetsuit. (Or when my planteris tendon or Achilles tendons are acting up.) The Xterra wetsuit near the ankles is too tight and I have visions of being on Youtube getting dragged around the sand on my butt.
It’s a fast downhill run and you grab your Swim-to-Bike bag off the numbered hook on your way into the transition tent. The tent was crowded, but there are plenty of volunteers. Suit off, number belt, glasses and helmet on; I grabbed my shoes (with socks inside) and ran barefoot to the bike. A volunteer stuffs your wetsuit, cap and goggles in the bag. I find it’s faster if I don’t put your shoes on in the tent, because I can run barefoot on the grass in the transition area and it is better for my Achilles (which feels a significant strain when running in bike shoes).
Placid is a clean transition area, meaning you can’t have shoes or helmets on the bike. It all has to be in the bag.
They call your number out as you leave the tent, and volunteers pull your bike off the rack and have it ready for you when you get there. (At least most of the time). When I got to my bike, being held by a kind volunteer, I went down on the grass on my butt and pulled on my socks and shoes. Then up and away to the mount line about 80 yards away across the Speed Skating oval.
Bike: 5:44:29 (13/210)
The first 30 miles of each loop of the bike are fast, due to a long downhill of about 7 miles and a fast, rolling stretch on good road (Route 9) from Keene to Ausable; the remaining 26 miles are more challenging as you climb back to Lake Placid through Wilmington and past Whiteface Mountain. The second loop was harder this year due to the headwind on the climbs and it warmed up under sunny skies.
I followed my nutrition and hydration plans carefully, setting my watch timer to remind me to drink every ten minutes. I consumed about six bottles of accelerade, which required releasing liquid ballast on the downhills about miles 60 and 80. It’s much easier to pee on a long downhill, and then wash you and your bike off with water. I only carried one bottle of concentrated accelerade (with a second one in special needs), picking up water at every stop to mix with the accelerade in my aerodrink bottle or to use for certain hygienic purposes.
Between miles 20 and 90, I ate two honey stinger waffles, a PBJ on white bread (for the low fiber) cut in quarters, and three gels with 40 mg caffeine. Waiting until mile 20 to eat lets my stomach settle from the swim and finishing my snacks before mile 90 gives my stomach time to settle before the run. I also took a salt tab about every hour. I did have a brief bout with nausea at mile 95 for some reason, but settled it with the Tums I keep in my bento box.
The roads were clean and in better shape than I expected after Irene. I saw only one flat and only two draft packs, although there were a few individual wheelsuckers including one who followed me up much of the climb back to Lake Placid. Unlike the combat swimmers, the cyclists seemed to be polite this year.
My goal was to maintain a 21 mph average, and I held it until about mile 90 when the wind (and perhaps the increasing heat) got the better of me. My first loop was on pace with a 2:45 split, but I slowed on the second climb and missed my goal time of 5:30 by about 15 minutes. My average pace plummeted from 21 to about 19.5 by the end of the second loop, and my bike split was five minutes slower than last year.
Later I would learn that I moved up to 16th in the AG after the bike, which normally would put me in an ideal position to run to the podium. We race blind until the run turnarounds, but my premise entering T2 is always twofold: 1) you have people to catch; and 2) the podium is reachable.
T2: 3:23 (20/210)
The approach to T2 is a little tricky due to turns and short, steep hills, but you can slip your feet out of your shoes as you pass the 1980 Olympic Ice Rink and glide down to the dismount line behind the high school. Colleen Kish took my bike, and Deb Taylor and Dan Mooney gave me a shout out, as they started their 2 p.m. shifts at the dismount line.
I took T2 deliberately, stopping at the portapotty for a little more overhydration relief, then grabbing my Bike to Run bag off the hook and stepping into the tent. This time the tent was fairly empty and a volunteer was immediately at my side. I took the time to put a blister bandaid on my left heel (a preventive measure from a training error during the middle of my taper) and to change into dry socks. Shoes on, then I grabbed my plastic bag of gels, salt and stomach stuff, and I was out.
Run: 3:49:26 (7/210)
The run started well. My legs felt a little sluggish at the outset, but I knew they would respond well if I was patient and started slowly. Although I didn’t taper the way I normally do (thanks to the blister), I’d made all my long training runs (including a 27 miler in 3:27 on a hot day), did weekly hill work, and I had some brutal tempo and speed sessions. And I simply love to run. I had been looking forward to it all day. All week, actually. I felt confident, as long as I stayed patient and controlled my pace.
50-54 year old guys immediately started to come back to me, and I felt increasingly strong in the first six miles. I remember being surprised when the first turnaround popped up around the corner; I was in the zone and feeling good. Plenty of energy, life in the legs, good focus.
Just before mile 7, my left quad cramped violently stopping me in my tracks to stretch it out. I’ve had leg cramps before, but rarely, and never more than one or two in a race. I was carrying salt and taking it, as planned, every 30 minutes. Just like in training and just like when I’ve raced in hot conditions at Boston this year and previously at Kona. After about 30 seconds of stretching and walking, the quad seemed fine and I was running again, feeling strong.
The cramp returned about a mile later. But in a different place this time, the left adductor. This was annoying but, I thought, manageable. Stretched it out, walked a little, and started running again. This pattern would repeat itself for the next 18 miles. Usually the cramp, violent and sudden, would attack the left side but not always. It seemed to move around. From the quad to the adductor, and once the left calf (which concerned me since my left planteris tendon has an ugly history). When I could run, I ran strong. But each mile, I lost close to a minute stretching or hobbling with a cramped muscle.
I never went negative and thought I’d get it under control. I was no longer reeling guys in, but played leapfrog instead. I’d pass them running, they’d pass me when I stopped. Stretch, walk, run. Repeat.
I changed from cola to Perform, two cups per waterstop, and increased my salt and gel consumption. Usually, I take one salt tab every 30 minutes. I was carrying six which normally gets me through a full marathon. Not today. I took all six tabs well before Special Needs at mile 12, where I had put six more salt tabs in my special needs bag in case of emergency. (The anticipated emergency was dropping and losing my salt, not using it all!)
The increased salt and fluid consumption didn’t seem to help, but maybe it stopped the cramps from getting worse. I consumed the six salt tabs from my special needs bag between miles 12 and 16. I still felt strong when I ran, but then a cramp would return and stop me dead in my tracks.
By mile 18, I was getting desperate, but not negative. I was out of salt and running out of time to catch guys. I knew the #1 guy was unreachable, because he was at least four miles ahead of me at the River Road turnaround. #2 would be hard too. The others weren’t unreachable, but only if I could hold a good pace. I was totally out of salt by now. So I started picking up salt tabs on the side of the road that others had dropped. (Don’t tell Mom).
Unfortunately, nothing helped. Every mile, almost like clockwork, I’d continue to cramp. I’d work it out and run again. I felt good when I could run, but it wouldn’t last long. One guy passed me running easily and I never saw him again. (He ran to third place with a 3:30 marathon or so). The last cramp was at mile 25+, just after the Mirror Lake Drive turnaround. I worked it out and the wheels barely stayed on until the finish, where Bob and Sadj greeted me.
I made a brief visit to the Medical Tent, where they weighed me and checked under the hood. I’d only lost ten pounds, which isn’t unusual, and there were people in far worse shape than I was, so I left.
So, the run was my greatest disappointment. My goal (yet again) was a 3:15 Ironman marathon. I felt that given the conditions and my conditioning, it was possible, and that a 3:30 marathon would be a walk in the park. Not the case.
I’m still trying to get my ahead around what caused the leg cramps and I’ll review my nutrition plan for the bike and run, and continue to ramp up bike training. I believe success on the run depends upon nailing your nutrition and on solid bike legs. Perhaps my nutrition needs are changing as I age (gasp). I believe my bike training was deficient this year despite four long rides in the mountains after Eagleman. (You can’t cram for an Ironman).
I finished about 40 seconds behind the guy who got 7th (a guy I don’t ever remember seeing pass me, but he later told me where he did it). I missed the podium and Kona by 3 places and about ten minutes. (And I was ten minutes slower than last year.)
The best news about the race: my swim times continue to drop, albeit slowly; even without sufficient saddle time, I felt good on the bike, particularly climbing with a new 11:25 cassette (I’ve been riding an 11:21 there for years); on the run, I was nowhere near a bonk and always had energy. I never went negative, I controlled what I could and I didn’t give up, despite the time I was losing on the run. Most importantly, even with mega salt consumption, my GI held firm. That’s huge for me given my struggles the past couple of years.
Races like this are frustrating but motivating. I can’t wait until next year (and 2014 to break my even year Kona jinx).
In the meantime, I’ll learn more about cramps, because I need to get this figured out before the Western States Endurance Run (assuming I get in). I'll study the nutrition piece and experiment. I plan to get more saddle time in the mountains.
I’ll focus more on core since the adductors and quads may have been overworked due to a weak core, triggering the cramps; and I’ll continue run hard in the heat, in the hills, and after long rides.
The Ironman doesn’t give gifts. And the Ironman respects only performance, not good intentions or unrealistic expectations.
2013 will be my ninth Ironman, and my sixth Ironman Lake Placid, and I’m going back to settle the score.