Ironman Lake Placid , New York Race Report – July 20, 2008 - by David Piper
If you are fortunate enough to do an Ironman distance race and even more fortunate to finish, once you cross the finish line and hear those famous words coming out of Mike Reilly’s mouth stating “You are an Ironman.”, you now know you are part of a club. A unique club. The Ironman Club. One statistic I found on the internet is: There are 6,446,131,400 people in the world, and only approximately 50,000 of those people have completed an Ironman. That is only 0.000775% of the population. Yes, now I can say that I am part of that fantastic statistic.
SWIM (2.4 miles): 1:19:01
Transition One: 9:12
BIKE (112 miles): 6:26:02
Transition Two: 5:57
RUN (26.2 miles): 4:23:18
TOTAL TIME: 12:23:28
RANKINGS: Overall: 914 out of 2345 finishers
My Age Group (35-39): 189 out of 387
My Ironman training plan officially started back in December 2007, a 33 week Ironman distance training plan. Due to various races, minor injuries, laziness, moving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and life in general, my plan wasn’t always followed. In my mind, the little voices kept telling me “David, don’t forget about your plan.”. The days and months slowly ticked away as my various triathlon races and training continued. It wasn’t until my May 18th Auburn Half Ironman bike crash that my training took a serious detour for a little while. After the bike crash and up until the Lake Placid Ironman, the injury to my shoulder allowed me literally two times to go swimming. I was very nervous about such limited swimming, but I think complete rest ended up being best for my shoulder.
Several days prior to leaving for New York , I dropped off my bike for Tri Bike Transport. Excellent convenience, excellent service and most importantly ease of mind. It was slightly more than the airlines, but well worth it. No hassles of carrying my bike myself or of the airlines opening up the case and damaging my bike. After the race, you can drop off the bike and fuggedaboutit. It’s that simple. I would highly recommend using them as I will for any future races. A day before leaving, Jose and I dropped off the dogs at our friend Joe’s house in Palm Springs . We headed to the Los Angeles airport for a pretty uneventful, redeye direct flight to JFK in New York .
After arriving in New York four days prior to the race, we rented a car and started on the six hour drive North to Lake Placid . We checked into the Crowne Plaza Resort and then met up with Allen, one of three other friends from Pasadena , CA that decided to race as well. This was Allen’s and I first Ironman. Allen was staying in the same hotel so it was very simple to hook up with him for everything. The next several days consisted of Jose being the best support staff anyone could ask for as well as Allen, Roberto and Luis (other two Pasadena friends) driving and riding the course, a little running, some swimming as well as walking up and down this nasty grade hill to our hotel. We did our registration and packet pickup, expo shopping and even a little local sight seeing. I loved staying in a hotel that was right in the middle of everything. The hotel was less than a quarter of a mile from everything. I loved the excitement and energy of being amongst it all. Some people don’t like the excitement and want peace and quiet before a race, but I definitely thrived on it. We even managed to go see the movie Batman on the day it opened.
As almost the entire triathlon community will tell you to never, never try something new on race day, I believe them and typically follow that advice. Fortunately, here is where I deviated from that philosophy and luckily it paid off. A very quick background of me: Out of all of the races I have completed in the past two years, I have never been quite able to nail down my nutrition and/or hydration requirements. I tried many different strategies. I would consume one or two energy gels or a lot of gels…I would eat pasta the night before or skip pasta altogether…drink my nutrition…drink more water….drink less water…but I consistently seemed to have Gastro-Intestinal (GI) issues. No, I won’t go into details. Anyway, I figured I had tried most things and decided I wanted to go out on a limb and try solid foods. I hadn’t tried solid foods up to this point because I didn’t think that I was coordinated enough to eat and ride at the same time. My good friend Stephanie said solid food worked wonders for her first Ironman. I figured based on past GI issues, I didn’t have too much to lose. All of the food that I mention in the remainder of this race report was completely new for me and not tested. Like I said, it was a big gamble, but an experiment that proved positive and that I now know works for me.
The day/night before the race, I steadily loaded up on white types of pastas and Gatorade. I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. to get up and eat a peanut butter, banana and jelly sandwich, a Naked Fruit Juice and take all of my vitamins. At 4:30 a.m. the alarm went off again. At this time, I didn’t want to get up. Not for the typical reason of being so bloody early, but for the reason that I knew that once I officially woke up, it was going to be the start of a very, very long day. I decided there was no turning back at this point, so I got up, ate another peanut butter, banana and jelly sandwich, another energy juice, some oatmeal and a cup or two of coffee. By 5:10 a.m., Jose and I were heading down to the transition area.
The weather was pretty nice up until race day. Sunny, warm days and an occasional rain shower in the late afternoon. The weather for race day was predicted to be a 40 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms in the late afternoon. Well, they sure got that one wrong. In case you didn’t hear, there were torrential down pours for basically the entire day.
THE SWIM (1:19:01)
A couple of days leading up to the race, I developed an eye infection. Great timing, huh? My right eye had become puffy and swollen and painful. With the assistance of my personal traveling Doctor, Dr. Jose Martinez, we applied hot compresses, eye drops, etc., trying to get the swelling and irritation to go down/away. I was terrified that by the time race day came, I would not be able to see out of my eye. Upon race morning, it was still slightly swollen, but not bothering me. I even took an extra pair of my large framed goggles to the swim start just in case my racing goggles would not be able to fit over my eye. I am happy to say that my eye never bothered me the entire race. My prior shoulder injury didn’t affect me on the swim either. Thank God for small miracles.
Allen, Luis, Roberto and I were able to meet up with each other in the transition area before heading over to the swim start. We offered encouragement to each other before entering the water which was about 20 minutes prior to the start. Once we were in the water, Roberto and I were able to stay near each other, but lost track of where Luis and Allen went. Roberto and I seeded ourselves at about the middle of the starting line, and about 5-10 people from the front. I felt pretty good about this placement. My anxiety started to increase several times as we were treading water, but luckily, I had veteran Ironman Roberto to talk me down from my anxiety high. With his calming words and my ability to create my own personal Jacuzzi in my wetsuit, by the time the cannon went off, I was actually in a very good mental state.
The swim start and all of the horror stories I have heard and the videos that I have seen caused me to fear the swim probably more than anything else. I actually had these preconceived notions about how astronomically horrible the beating, battering and flailing of bodies were going to be, but nothing came close to the reality of the situation. Sure, I was kicked, swum over, elbowed, scratched (damn long finger and toe nails) and drank lake water, but I had a lot more open water and space than I was expecting to have. The drafting that one feels in the water when you are amongst 2300 people swimming in the same direction is COOL. I have never experienced anything like it before. At times I thought “I could stop swimming and still be pulled along by the current.”, it was that strong. When I was slightly out of the pack, or draft zone, I could definitely feel the difference. Being slightly out of the pack was perfectly fine with me as this gave me more space to myself – hence less water kung fu and better experience.
The swim is a two loop course, with each loop being 1.2 miles long. A very short run on the sand in between each loop. After starting the second loop, I remember thinking “Yea, I like this. I’m digging it. I can do this…I think”. After the final loop of the swim, there is quite a long run from Mirror Lake to the transition area. Wow – one done, now two more to go.
TRANSITION ONE (9:12)
Nine minutes and 12 seconds?!?! What?? Ah, I remember, there was a newspaper sitting on the chair so I decided I wanted to get caught up on the local Lake Placid news. Honestly folks, I really don’t know why it was this long. Maybe this included the time it took me to slosh through the mud with my bike shoes and then do the dance to get the mud dislodged from my Speedplay cleats. I don’t know.
Now that my first and main fear of being clobbered to death in the swim came and disappeared, I was now faced with my second and very serious fear – riding my bike in the rain. Wet roads and inexperienced riders can make for a very dangerous situation. I just kept telling myself that it was more important to be cautious and take things slowly rather than end up crashing and not being able to finish. The bike course consists of two loops, each loop being 56 miles. Talk about a beautiful bike course. I really can’t say enough about it. Water falls and rivers along the road. Majestic, pine tree covered mountains. Olympic ski jumps in the distance. Rock cliffs along the road. I am really glad I drove the course prior to the race because I was able to take in and enjoy the beautiful scenery for what it was worth. Plus, prior to the race, it wasn’t raining and I could actually see the tops of the mountains.
Back to the pouring rain at hand…My glasses kept fogging up so just took them off and felt that I could see better without them on. Being flexible and able to adapt to the situation at hand is key, I’ve learned. There were some good downhill descents on this course right near the beginning. With all of the current weather factors and not being 100 percent familiar with the twists and turns of this course, I definitely was very cautious on my first loop. Additionally, on the various climbs, I made an extra effort to not push myself to hard and to be patient. Even though various people were passing me, I would smile and say to myself “No worry, I’ll see you again.”. Per some words of advice I received: “Nothing matters until mile 18 of the run.” As people were passing me, I would remember this advice. Even when I would pass someone, I would say the same thing to myself. It kept my lesson in humility in check. The “18 mile” advice is truer than I imagined. I’ll get more into that later.
The first 56 miles slowly ticked away. I was using my aero bars probably between 50 and 60 percent of the time. I am not quite sure why it was such a small amount of time. Was I sight seeing? Maybe. Did my back hurt? Don’t recall. Not used to being in that position for very long? Quite possibly. Whatever the reason, I do think it added some extra time to my overall bike time.
On my first 56 mile loop, I only stopped for the restroom one time. I ate two Lara Bars and continued to drink the normal Gatorade and water. At the end of the first 56 mile loop, I picked up my special needs bag where I had stuffed an additional two Lara Bars in my shirt along with a peanut butter, banana and jelly sandwich and a bag of potatoes. No, I didn’t sling a burlap bag of potatoes over my shoulder. I previously cooked about 6-8 small, yellow potatoes and had them in a Ziploc bag. This was ingenious in my mind because they were small enough that I could pop each one of them in my mouth at a time. They were yellow potatoes so they actually were sweet and therefore didn’t need my usual butter, sour cream, and chives which would have been kind of messy on the bike!! I did make myself laugh because at one point I looked down and realized I had a sandwich hanging out the one side of my outfit and a bag of potatoes hanging out the other side. I can just imagine what people thought I was carrying underneath my shirt.
The second 56 mile loop ticked away as well. I was more confident the second time around and was able to take the down hills at a slightly faster speed while maintaining my safety and security. I made one more restroom stop on this loop, but I still did not have any bathroom issues like previous races. I continued eating my bag of potatoes, Lara Bars and sandwich incrementally on the bike. As I mentioned earlier, I never ate solid foods during a race before, so the fact that I was eating a feast on the bike was an experience for me.
After coming off of the bike, I was thinking “Yea baby, two down, one to go, but don’t get cocky and remember that nothing matters until mile 18 of the run.”
TRANSITION TWO (5:57)
I’m still not sure what took so long on this transition as well. My only guess is that I was trying to not have mud and who knows what on my feet before putting on my running shoes. I grabbed another Lara Bar from my bag and put a couple of energy gels in my shirt in case I decided to use it (but never did). Per a suggestion from Allen, I had a small, hand held, water resistant tube that was capable of carrying eight Saltstick caplets (created by my friend, Jonathan Toker), about 6-8 antacid tablets and eight Ibuprofen pills. After a quick stop at the urinal, I was on my way. An additional decision I made in the transition area was to run without my Garmin watch or heart rate monitor. I was going out to run and the run was going to be what it was going to be. I decided I didn’t need to keep track of my running pace or heart rate. I was there for the experience.
Well, I’m glad I changed into my dry socks and dry running shoes…oh wait, it is still pouring down rain. The good thing about rain is you can only get sooo wet.
The run is a two loop course. The first 13.1 miles started out smoothly. I really tried to keep my enthusiasm to run faster under control. I knew I had an entire marathon to run and that I needed to be patient and run conservatively. Nothing matters until mile 18 of the run…came to be my mental motto.
As I was heading out of town, this was the first time that I actually became a little emotional. I realized that I was actually going to be able to finish this race. Even if something happened and I had to walk the entire marathon, I knew I would still be finishing. Swim – checked off. Bike – checked off. Now I only had the run to deal with.
The thought of swimming 2.4 miles, then cycling 112 miles and then running 26.2 miles is too overwhelming for anyone to mentally tackle. In many cases, in order to be able to handle this final run challenge, people will break up the 26.2 miles into a more manageable 26, one mile races, or possibly 13, two mile races. This way of thinking is much easier to deal with rather than thinking “Now I have to go run 26.2 miles.”. In my mind and before I knew how my body was going to react once I started running, I was fully prepared to run one mile and walk through the aid stations while drinking water. I, of course, wanted to run the entire marathon without stopping, but was prepared for anything.
One mile…feeling good…two miles…still feeling good….WOW. Okay, I’ll keep going. I grab water in the aid stations and keep running. Wow, I can’t believe I am feeling this well. Three, four, five and six miles…okay, I am sure at any point I will have to start walking. Nope. I just kept on going. The run course was amazing. This was one of those courses that you were constantly surrounded by beauty. From the gurgling brooks and water falls along the road to the canopy of trees, it was truly a beautiful scene. It was still raining very hard, but to be honest, I think this helped me. I tend to overheat and dehydrate fairly easily, so the fact that I could basically take those two issues out of the equation was wonderful. I simply didn’t have to worry about overheating. It was such a relief to remove such a huge obstacle from my race day worries. I actually felt like I was drawing energy from the rain. Another place that I was drawing inspiration from was all of the signs people had placed along the road. It was amazing seeing all of the signs and well wishes. I imagined every one of those signs was made for me.
Periodically I would take one of my Saltstick caplets and/or one of my calcium Tums, but never did I take any energy gels. At the end of the first loop, I grabbed my special needs bag where I had an additional peanut butter, banana and jelly sandwich as well as an additional bag of bite size potatoes. I also had a Ziploc bag of fruit and nut granola that I made, but I just didn’t have the space to carry it, so I decided to leave it behind. I think the sandwich somewhat acted as comfort food for me as well. Boy was it good.
On the second 13.1 mile loop, I eventually finished my sandwich and potatoes. I never had to stop at the restroom. This was an amazing experience for me. There have been races where I had to stop every mile. The miles just kept ticking away and I felt great. Granted I wasn’t running very fast, but the fact that I didn’t stop AND ended up having a NEGATIVE run split, made me ecstatic. For my non-triathlete friends out there, a negative run split means that I ran the second half FASTER than the first half. Rarely do people do this for the mere fact that they are usually getting tired and unwillingly slow down on the second half.
The 18 mile rule. Everything that one does on the swim and bike is ultimately setting you up for the run. If you follow proper nutrition, pacing, patience, etc., there shouldn’t be any reason for you to not have a good run. This proved very true for me. Yes, I experimented with things on race day that should have been tested more times prior to the race, but everything worked out well. To further prove how critical executing your race day plan is, it was recommended that at mile 18, start counting the number of people you pass on the run. I thought about this and decided I would give it a try. I really wasn’t expecting to pass very many people, but in the end, from mile 18 to the finish, I passed somewhere around 203 people. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea so many people were tuckering out. If everything leading up to this point weren’t going well for me, I could have easily been one of those people walking the last eight miles.
Even though it is still pouring rain, I think the last quarter to half mile going towards the finish line; one forgets any pain they are in, that it is raining, that they are cold or anything of that sort. There is this renewed sense of energy. The fabulous crowds are yelling and in the distance I keep hearing “You are an Ironman.” and know that very, very soon, I will be hearing the same thing. At this time, I start preparing for the finish line by making sure my race number is showing, my top is zipped up, my hair is combed…oh wait, I don’t have hair…and then I enter the Olympic Oval for the last hundred or so yards and finally make my way the last few steps towards my biggest accomplishment to date…becoming an Ironman.
We decided to stay in Lake Placid an extra day to relax and go to the Awards Banquet on Monday. We were able to see all of the Professionals and Age Group folks receive their medals. We heard Mike Reilly speak and even watched a short movie recapping the race. Watching the movie was an additional emotional time for me as I was actually starting to believe what I had accomplished.
After leaving Lake Placid, a drive back to New York City and several days in Manhattan followed. My post race relaxation included walking 2/3 of Central Park (do you know how stinking huge that park is?) as well as walking back and forth all over Manhattan . I mean allll over Manhattan …from Midtown to Battery Park. The first couple of days I had a hard time keeping up with Jose since my legs were not cooperating, but I think due to all of the walking, my legs finally came around and I felt great.
We stayed in a typical New York hotel where the room was smaller than my closet. I could stand in the middle of the room and stretch out my arms and almost touch both walls. I’m glad we were not in the room very much. We were able to go see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway as well. What a fabulous show. I missed the opportunity 20 years ago to see it when I was in New York , so I felt that it was time to finally go see it.
After a week of completing my first Ironman, there are several times that I sit here and ponder “Did I really do all of that in one day?...Did I really just do an Ironman?...Did I really finish?” I think part of me doesn’t quite believe it has happened. Well, let me go look at all of the very, very expensive Ironman gear I bought and maybe that will convince and remind me of what I did.
A huge, huge THANK YOU goes out to my number one support team member, partner, best friend and all around good guy, Jose Martinez. I could not have done this without you. Thank you for everything you sacrificed in order for me to pursue this dream.
Additional well deserved THANK YOU wishes go out to my friend’s Roberto, Luis and Allen for making my first Ironman experience something I will never forget.
Thank you especially to Stephanie P., Jon M., and Craig P. as well as all others that offered race tips, support and kept me in their thoughts and prayers.
Finally, a huge THANK YOU goes out to all of the volunteers and residents of Lake Placid . You were awesome!!! We definitely could not have done it without you. THANKS.