Ironman Lake Placid

A breathed a sigh of relief. The Wilmington convenience store had knock-off Imodium, saving Adelaide and I a 45 minute round trip drive into Lake Placid for diarrhea medicine. I snagged a couple candy bars for the special needs bag. Then went back and grabbed a second pack of Imodium. On race day, you can’t have too solid a poop.

I woke up the next morning, the day before the race, with a fairly loose bowel movement, but no diarrhea. Everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse. 

Race Day

Heavy drizzle turned to heavy rain as I organized my gear in the darkness of transition. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, which was normal, but I felt rested and ready for the race. There were only two or three competitors I felt like I had to really worry about, and a win felt within grasp if I was on a good day. A podium seemed like a sure thing, though a DNF was on tap.

I found myself somewhat near the front of the swim in the first few hundred meters, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. And by near the front, I mean I was close enough to spot the lead paddleboard at one point. I bridged a small gap after the first turn buoy and forced myself to scrape the guy’s feet in front as much as possible to keep focused and on pace, as I was on the limit for the first 20-odd minutes. 

The four of us in our group finished the first lap and ran up onto land before diving back in, while a steady stream of age groupers began pouring into the lake just to the side of us. I thought I was set up for a great swim time, and I knew it would be difficult staying with the two faster swimmers in front of me as we cut our way through the chaotic age group mass. I had to keep in contact, especially since I didn’t know where the swim exit was. 

Within a half minute of reentering the water, an age grouper swam into me from the side and pushed down on my left shoulder, sinking me. I kicked frantically and swung my arm out wide to hit him off me. A few minutes later a different age grouper began backstroking into the pro in front of me. Eventually, we finished the loop section of the swim course and found ourselves in clean water, four or five hundred meters from the swim exit.

Back on land, my lungs and sides cramped and I lost contact with my swim-mates as we ran up a long, steep hill into transition. As I approached our bike rack, panting heavily in a daze, I noticed that Matt Russell and Joe Skipper’s bikes were still racked. A head start! I knew that those two guys, plus Rasmuss Sveningson, would probably be my main competition. There were a few French pros in the race as well, but I didn’t know much about them other than the fact that they stuffed their bento boxes with delicious mounds of Munster, Tomme, Gruyere, Camembert, and Roquefort. That’s a French cheese joke. 

Onto the bike, I was confident I’d be able to get up to the front in 30 or 45 minutes of hard riding. The roads were wet, our visors were fogged, and there was a short technical descent through town, perfect for shaving off half a minute without any effort at all. After town, we hit the hills. 

A few miles into the bike and my legs were still recovering from the swim, and I hadn’t managed to pull back much time on the guys who I exited the water with. It’s a long day, I reminded myself. Still though, I began worrying that I might not have it today.

Over the first series of climbs, I began passing my former swim-teammates one by one. I’d exited the water in 15th, and by the first short out and back section I counted that I was in 11th or 12th and about three minutes down. I still had serious work to do. 

I continued chipping away as the road descended, then flattened out, then began climbing again. The course was as hilly as any North American Ironman gets, which was part of the allure, though I realized that being in a group would still be a huge benefit for most of it. There were plenty of fast, flat sections of road. And wind. 

I chugged more calories, intent on not making the same fueling error as I did in Tulsa, and kept my head down, still picking off the odd guy now and then. My power wasn’t great (295 at mile 30 or so), but I was confident that I’d at least make contact. At this point, I changed my strategy from blowing by the front group to just sitting in and saving it for the later part of the second lap. My legs just weren’t coming around for some reason. Even though I’d trained harder and more consistently than I had back in the spring, I was riding 20 watts lower than I did for the first 2.5+ hours at Tulsa.

At the next turn around, at mile 35, I counted a group of seven as they blew by downhill going the opposite direction. All I had to make up was 90 seconds and I could sit in and recover for a bit. Over the next 10 miles, I continued losing steam, though I was able to hold the same power. At every long straightaway, I willed the group to appear up the road. I passed one guy that had fallen out of the group, but somehow the five or six up the road had put massive time into me.

I finished the first lap, descended through town again, and began dragging my tiring body up the next set of hills at mile 60. I turned right off the main road onto the two-mile out and back section, and saw that I was a few minutes behind two guys, but three more had completely disappeared, making it through the entire out and back before I even arrived. Meanwhile, a group of five or six containing Matt and Joe was quickly approaching from behind. Fuck. I was in no-man’s land. I weighed my options and decided to sit up and rest until Matt, Joe, and the three or four others in that group caught me. I could sit in and rest, then help pull back whoever was drilling it up front.

What I didn’t know was that I had lost over three and a half minutes from mile 35 to 56, despite holding the exact same power average of 295. It turned out that the lead moto likely played a huge role in this. Earlier, I noticed that the lead vehicle was close to the leaders at the 35 mile marker turn around, though I hadn’t given it much thought at the time.

Matt, Joe, Kevin Portman, and three other guys caught me at the 70-ish mile marker and I began sitting in on a long flat section, wondering what was going on with my legs. I downed more calories and caffeine but felt weaker as we went. Kevin took a couple big pulls while the rest of us sat in. We took a left turn up a rolling climb with a strong headwind and I noticed that one of the guys in the group was consistently riding three bike lengths back from the guy in front of him. After five minutes of this, I asked the official that was riding next to us if he was going to do anything about it. I watched as the official rode up to him, slowed, then passed without doing anything. I’d never seen more intentionally illegal drafting than that, and if the reff wasn’t going to card him, no one was getting carded today. *(See footnote for legal drafting description).

At mile 90, Matt put in an attack and opened some distance to the rest of us. I waited, still feeling weaker than I thought I should. Joe surged to close it. I kept waiting, hoping that one of the three other guys would close the gap to Joe now. By the time he was 25 meters up the road, I knew it was now or never, and I powered around Kevin and the two other guys. Joe and I linked up with Matt and from there on it was Matt doing most of the work. Joe contributed a few pulls, while I held on by a thread, nearly getting dropped a half dozen times as the undulating road followed the Ausable river into town.

Matt dropped off for an emergency bathroom break in the forest with two miles to go and I followed Joe the rest of the way into T2, feeling utterly spent. I’d been suffering enough to not really have any clue what was going on in the race up ahead, but as we ran our bikes through transition, I learned from Joe that we were 12 minutes behind the leader, which was almost unbelievable given the fact that Joe averaged 296, and he’d been riding in various groups virtually all day long (and getting the legal benefit of doing so). He and I were in 4th and 5th place, but the podium seemed an impossible feat given the huge gaps to 1st through 3rd. 

I told Joe good luck and he took off. I jogged the first few miles of the run, crippled with chest and side cramps until mile two. The cramps thankfully subsided, very gradually, but my legs weren’t in any better shape. My quads were wrecked. I looked at my watch and saw that I was running close to 8:30 pace. Matt passed me. Kevin blew by. Igor Amorelli passed, and I began thinking of dropping out. It was mile four, and if my legs were going to come around, it would have happened by now. I looked down at my pace and saw 9:00 on a flat section of road. I began calculating how long it would take to reach the finish at 9:00 pace. Probably more like 11:00 per mile when you add in walking at the end, I thought. After Tulsa, I knew that I didn’t have it in me to run/walk 20 miles. 

At mile five I pulled out.

Post Race Analysis

Unfortunately, the leaders on the bike took a huge advantage of being unfairly close behind the lead vehicle, despite this very issue being brought up and discussed at length during the pro briefing. However, any advantage that they took didn’t really have much of an effect on my race. I simply didn’t have it on the day. I screwed up at Tulsa by racing too aggressively. Lake Placid was a different story. Aside from the swim, I just felt like garbage, and only got by on the bike due to sheer stubbornness.

I have some thinking to do about how to approach training and racing for the rest of the summer. First step is to start working with a coach. Actually, the first step was getting my thyroid bloodwork done, which I did yesterday. I was hypothyroid, by a fair degree, which helps explain the lack of power on the bike and my inability to run off the bike. I suspected this might be a problem heading into the race simply because I’d been getting super cold during almost every swim this past month. 

I was good about getting tested throughout the winter, but stopped when I got to Boulder, thinking I had my medication dialed in and my Hashimoto’s was under control. It’s never under control. It has to be monitored monthly, especially when I’m putting in big hours of training. I guess this race was the reminder I needed.

The depression of having such a horrible race is nearing its end, and Boulder 70.3 is in a week and a half. I have almost no expectations, other than to simply come in top eight and post up a half decent race this year once and for all. After that (assuming I don’t get picked for the Collins Cup, which would require at least a podium at Boulder 70.3), I’ll take a short break before ramping back up for Ironman California at the end of October. 

*Ironman allows a 12 meter (six bike length) draft zone, which provides about 10 watts if you’re behind one rider, and around 40 watts if you’re last in a line of 10 riders. In terms of lead vehicles and media motos, I don’t think Ironman has any sort of gap standard between the vehicle and the rider, which is a problem because if it’s a car, you can still get a decent draft at 40 meters or more. The same is true of a motorcycle at 25 meters.