I had a great time at Ironman Lake Placid racing with Team Every Man Jack and bringin’ home the maple syrup! I was also incredibly fortunate to have my brother to support me and to be able to spend the weekend there with him.
The course was incredible and the race went well: 3rd in age group, 6th amateur, 18th overall, and 3rd fastest run overall. As usual my teammates James DeFilippi, Michael Hoffman, and Clay Emge turned in outstanding performances, with Clay leading the way with the top amateur finish and 5th overall. A number of other teammates also showed up just to support us – I’m constantly amazed by what a great group this is.
I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid last year to see how I would fare on a hilly Ironman. I had raced Ironman Maryland in 2015 and still had it coming again in 2016, primarily because it’s local, but the course is pancake flat.
My strength has always been hills, going back to high school cross country. Part of that is physiology, part of it is mental, and part of it is training (most of the best cross country teams when I was in high school were from the eastern part of Tennessee, which is of course where the hills are).
On the bike, though, hills being better for me is simply physics. I have a small, runner’s build. I’m never going to put out as much raw power as someone who has similar fitness and 20 pounds of muscle on me. On a bike, on a flat course, that person isn’t penalized proportionately for that extra weight. On a hill, though, where that 20 pounds is fighting gravity, the tables are turned. If you look at Tour de France riders, the great climbers are built sort of like me, while the great sprinters are heavier muscular guys.
So I signed up for IMLP for much the same reason I signed up for 2017 Ironman Syracuse 70.3: to see what I could do in conditions that played to my strengths.
The race was on Sunday, but athlete check-in ended at 5 PM on Friday and we weren’t able to leave until Friday. So my brother and I got up at 5 AM to make the 8.5 hour drive and still have a buffer for traffic problems. I didn’t get much sleep Thursday night, but my brother amazingly did all the driving so that I could get some rest. I had done a mini taper for this race and was feeling pretty good (I only do a full taper for two races a year, otherwise I’d never get any real training done). Plus, my watch told me I was doing great. So there’s that.
We arrived at around 3 PM and I was able to quickly get checked in. As I did I noticed the awards: pure, genuine maple syrup from the Adirondacks. My kryptonite. This race wasn’t my season’s focus, but if I didn’t have motivation for it before, boy did I ever at that point.
One of the benefits of arriving two days before the race is that I was able to meet my teammates for dinner. Before this season, I wanted to join a team for the perks, but I chose Team EMJ for the people. Hanging out with those guys and their families once again reinforced that and I was proud to be representing them at the race.
Now, no triathlon would be complete without me having some issue with gear. Normally, it’s my wheels. This time, it was my front shifting. I love the q-rings on my bike, but my front derailleur does not. Fortunately The Bicycle Place had helped me get things set up as perfectly as possible, but after a test ride I decided to make a few last adjustments to minimize the chances of any major problems (e.g. dropping the chain) by minimizing the amount of front shifting I would do and essentially avoid the situation altogether. As I was making that change, though, things stopped shifting entirely. After a short panic, I realized my battery for my new Di2 shifting was dead. I was going to charge it anyway, but had to make it through another short panic where it didn’t seem to be charging at first. Eventually, I got things setup satisfactorily and got to bed, just again a couple of hours later than planned.
The next day I got my normal shakeouts in, got my bike checked in, got my gear sorted, and managed to get to bed only about an hour later than planned. One of the many things Barkley has done for me is eliminate any difficulty falling asleep before “normal” races due to nerves. I was out quickly, and got a solid six hours before my pre-dawn alarm.
For possibly the first time in any triathlon I’ve done, the conditions looked great for the swim. Water temperatures were around 70 degrees, the surface looked smooth, and we even had the rowing cable in the lake to follow so people like me who can’t swim in a straight line stay on course.
I was also excited that we had a rolling self-seeded start instead of age group waves. I would get to actually race people of similar skill level, regardless of how old they were. Not being a great swimmer, though, I positioned myself near the back of those people and got into the water about a minute after the start.
The first loop of the swim was rather uneventful. I came around in about 31 minutes and was feeling pretty good about hitting my sub 1:05 goal. The second loop had a few more issues, though. I had to swim off course a number of times to get around people still on their first loop. In the process I also got elbowed right in the chest at one point, knocking the breath out of me and forcing a bit of time to float helplessly and recover.
One of my problems on the swim, is pacing. I know how hard I’m pushing in running, but I haven’t learned that yet in swimming (which is made even worse by not being able to look at your watch). I feel like I should get out of the water at the end of the swim with my arms absolutely shot, but that’s never the case. Despite feeling like I was keeping a good pace and possibly even going for a negative split, I came out of the water in 1:06:14 in 264th place. It was slower than I was hoping for, but I didn’t drown and it didn’t put my overall goals out of reach. It was also a faster pace at twice the distance than what I had done at Syracuse (although conditions were much better). And I would have been first out of the water in the 60-64 age group (by 30 seconds), so if I can keep my same pace for another 30 years I’ll have this swimming thing nailed.
T1 at IMLP involves about an 800 m run from the water to transition. Perfect! An extra chance for me to get around some of the good swimmers! I seized that opportunity and actually moved up a decent amount with one of the fastest T1 times that I saw. I was quickly headed out on my bike ready to switch from defense and move back up.
But then, absolute disaster. As I tried to sit down I felt a familiar pain that I’ve experienced in various degrees in a few triathlons, but nothing this bad since my very first race at the 2015 Nation’s Triathlon. My glutes were so tight that it was impossible for me to get in my saddle. Every attempt to sit down resulted in obscenely sharp pains that felt like a dagger being stuck in each cheek and twisted. I’ve pushed through a lot of pain and injuries, but this one, along with an IT band issue last year, are the only ones where it has been absolutely physically impossible to fight.
For over 20 minutes I was out of the saddle, moving along as best I could while trying not to sap too much energy. During that time I was going 3.5 mph slower than my race average, bleeding valuable minutes. If you check out my FinisherPix pictures you’ll see a number of them like this one where I’m out of the saddle or not on my aero bars. I wasn’t doing it for a climb. I was doing it because I physically couldn’t do anything else.
After I finally managed to sit down, it took me another 10 minutes to get on my aero bars. I then used the huge descent into Keene, where I could coast for sections at over 40 mph, to alternate stretching each glute. By the time I reached the bottom I could finally get in my normal aero position and actually reach my straw, about 45 minutes after leaving transition.
If anyone has ever experienced anything like this or has any idea what could be causing it, I would love nothing more than to hear your thoughts on it. I assume it’s something to do with my awful swim technique, although the races it’s happened worst at seem to have long T1 runs, so maybe I’m running too hard out of the water. Terrel Hale at Georgetown Sports Massage has already offered some great pointers and I’m hopeful he’ll be able to help with this as he has with other problems, but I’m open to any and all suggestions.
A 1 Minute Detour
Just as I thought I was ready to really get going, a race marshal pulled up alongside me. Apparently, I had taken too long to pass someone. I’m still not sure when or where this happened. The few people I had passed to that point I had passed quickly. If another cyclist had sped up once I started moving in front, that’s on them. In any case, I received a yellow card and had to stop at the next penalty tent for 1 minute. Another valuable minute lost, plus the time to get back up to speed. Other than my self-reported course error at the 2017 Columbia Triathlon this was the first penalty of any kind I had ever received.
Back to Business
Alright, finally it was time to get going. I burst out of the penalty tent trying to turn my frustration into motivation. Then, a front shift and I felt my chain pop off! Fortunately my chain catcher did its job and everything was quickly back in place, with nothing more resulting from it than probably a quick heart rate spike out of momentary panic.
From that point my gradual climb from around 250 spots back continued steadily and resolutely. My hydration, calories, and electrolytes were all on point, with about 1,000 calories consumed during the bike. The dreaded climbs honestly didn’t seem all that bad, and I relished the opportunity to pass some of the more powerful cyclists (one of my friends who is one of those more powerful cyclists had a nearly identical bike split, but had to put out 15% more power to get it).
Shortly after starting the second loop a spectator shouted to me that I was in 56th place. I thought I had moved up further than that already, and I was far enough up that people had started getting rather sparse on the course, but I quickly started trying to do the math as to whether that could be correct. A little over 20 pros probably (who had a 10 minute head start), at this rate I could probably pass around 15 more on the bike, and then I could gun for the remaining ones on the run. It actually seemed about right. From there, I started counting. By the end of the bike my mental math put me at 38th.
I came in off the bike in 5:13:37, near the end of the range I was aiming for. I would have liked a few minutes faster, but given the glute problems and the penalty I couldn’t complain with that time. I once again put down a faster pace and more power at twice the distance compared to IM 70.3 Syracuse, and in similar conditions. I wasn’t sure what position I was in exactly, but was ready to get on my feet and switch to attack mode.
The run consisted of two out and backs, so I had at least the first half of the run to identify who was in front of me and what I needed to do. I started moving up right out of transition, and it wasn’t long before I went past the lead pros completing their first out and back. Not long after that I went past my teammate Clay Emge, who was leading the amateur field. I was moving at a steady clip, and by the time I reached the turnaround I calculated that I should be able to move up to 3rd amateur if I ran a perfect race.
Based on the conditions and how I was feeling, I targeted a 2:56 and settled into an amazing rhythm. I was in the zone, and loving it. During races I usually have a look of focus, or pain, but I physically couldn’t help but smile during the run. It was a great day, a beautiful course, I had made it through the swim and put down a decent bike split, and I was now ready to fly and do the part I love most. A lot of my FinisherPix pictures, like this one, managed to capture the goofy smile I had for most of the run. Apparently the smile also subtracted a few more years from my already “youthful” appearance as I got a number of comments from spectators (all in good fun) like, “I didn’t know there was a 10-14 age group.” or “Great job! Now finish strong so you can get home in time to finish your homework!” One of these days… one of these days when I’m 50 and look like I’m 25… then we’ll see who’s laughing. 😉
As I came in from my first out and back, I had achieved one thing already: even with the head start, none of the pros lapped me! It was a moral victory, but I was taking it. By that point it had started to heat up a bit, and I was having a bit of trouble staying hydrated and fueled at the pace I was moving. I had kept myself very well hydrated on the bike, though, and I actually had to make a quick pit stop in a port-a-potty, for I believe the first time in any race ever. That diversion cost me about 40 seconds, but I felt much better coming out and got down a gel coming in to the next aid station. I was back at it and on the hunt again, but unfortunately with the 2nd lap I was unable to clearly see who was in front of me and who was still on their 1st lap.
At about mile 16 my smile faded. I was starting to feel the heat and the cumulative fatigue of the day. I kept up my pace, but it required substantial focus and effort. I remained steady until about mile 23, by which time my smile had completely changed to a blank look of death. My pace dropped off and the priority shifted to damage control. I had been steadily chipping away at the margin to the 3rd amateur, cutting it from over 10 minutes to about 3. With a little over a mile left my brother, doing everything he could to keep me motivated, shouted at me that I was less than 3 minutes behind and could still do it. If nothing else, it gave me a slight diversion from how I felt, as I managed what could only be described as a laugh at the impossibility of closing that gap at that point.
I finally entered the oval and had it all to myself as I came around the last turn to the finish. I don’t really remember what I was thinking about other than getting to the finish line. When I crossed it was technically the first time I had completed a full 140.6. My previous races at the distance, the 2015 Ironman Maryland and 2016 Ironman Maryland, were both shortened due to weather. Shortly after crossing the line I collapsed into the volunteers and had to be wheeled into medical. With the heat gradually sneaking up on me during the day, I had actually become quite dehydrated and had a small fever. Soon enough, though, I was back on my feet and enjoying the post-race food.
I finished the run in 2:59:32. My 2:56 goal I made in the early miles was a good target, but as I faded near the end my mind shifted to “what do I need to do to still go sub 3?” Going under 3 at the end of the day on that course felt pretty great, and it was the 3rd overall fastest run time behind the winner and one other pro.
It didn’t take long for me to recover enough to want my post-race meal. After a few slices of pizza at the race, my brother and I went up to a restaurant we had been eyeing all weekend. I quickly landed on my choice, the beauty you see below. I must admit I wasn’t able to finish off the fries, but that was primarily to leave room for ice cream afterwards.
I got up the next morning and actually got in a nice 10 minute jog. I felt pretty good. It also gave me a chance to clear my head a bit and think back through the race. My overall time was 9:25:43. I had been aiming for the 9:15 – 9:30 range, so I fell right in the middle of that. I was quite happy with the result and it felt great to finish with a strong run. Particularly, I was pretty thrilled that I beat about half the pros and beat Andy Potts on the run. Sure, it’s kind of like beating an NBA star in a game of horse when you know they would crush you in an actual game of basketball (as Andy did, when you include the bike and swim), but it still felt pretty cool.
I couldn’t also help but feel, though, that I should have been able to shave a few minutes off to move up to 3rd amateur. But that’s how it goes. Enjoy the result, and think of how to make the next one even better. If we run out of ways to look to improve then, for me at least, the fun is kind of gone from it. Fortunately my jug of maple syrup was still the same size as it would have been if I had been a few minutes faster. Otherwise, the regret would have been overwhelming.
The entire weekend was a lot of fun. It was an incredible race and I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend the time with my brother, my teammates, and their families. As we got out of there I was already looking forward to the next race, which will be a bit of a homecoming for me at the IM 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga. I’ll have quite a large group of teammates there for that one, and family and friends to boot.